The German tourism industry has welcomed the government’s decision in favour of money-back vouchers for cancelled package holidays, saying it will prevent widespread insolvencies and job losses throughout the sector.
Following strong lobbying by travel industry associations, the German cabinet last week approved a plan for customers whose holidays have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic to be given a voucher to book a new holiday of the same value. The scheme, which is similar to moves in France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, requires approval by the European Commission.
In response to criticism from consumer rights organisations about a "compulsory loan by consumers to companies", Bareiß also emphasised that the vouchers will be financially backed by the government so that customers do not have to worry that the vouchers might become worthless.
Moreover, there will be a special 'hardship' rule for any customers in financial difficulties who need their money back quickly, the state secretary explained.
DRV president Norbert Fiebig said: "The agreement comes just in time for many small and medium-sized travel agencies and tour operators. An obligation to repay customers immediately (for cancelled holidays) would have driven very many companies into insolvency."
He urged the German government to press the EU Commission to suspend the repayment clause in the EU Package Travel Directive and to approve the voucher scheme. "Time is pressing, and many other EU state have already implemented the voucher solution," he pointed out.
Under the DRV voucher model, commissions already paid by tour operators for holiday bookings that have since been cancelled due to the coronavirus travel restrictions will remain with travel agents in order to support their liquidity. Customers would have to use the vouchers for new bookings through the same travel agency or sales point to ensure that these do not lose out on future bookings.
He emphasised: "Customers want to travel. Most of them should be able to afford it if they use the voucher for a trip at a later date."
However, one leading tour operator is taking a different path. Alltours, the fourth-largest German tour operator has already started to refund customers for all cancelled package and individual holidays that were scheduled for the period of March 17 – April 30.