The much-anticipated Christmas getaway meant so much more to Australians this year after months spent in lockdown away from loved ones who live interstate.
But the NSW northern beaches outbreak has left holiday plans in tatters for thousands across the country, after states and territories slammed their borders shut in response.
As holiday-makers scramble to find out what will happen to their booking, the consumer watchdog is calling on the tourism industry to treat consumers fairly during these difficult circumstances.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns that not all would-be travellers will be entitled to a refund, in full or in part, because terms and conditions vary between travel providers.
“Whether consumers are entitled to a refund for travel bookings cancelled due to government restrictions will depend on the terms and conditions of their booking,” an ACCC spokesman said.
“Some travel and accommodation providers have implemented more flexible re-booking or change policies to address the potential for future travel restrictions.”
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Some terms and conditions may provide for the ability to rebook or issue a credit note for cancelled bookings.
“Travel providers should act in accordance with the terms and conditions that were in place at the time a consumer made their booking,” the ACCC spokesman said.
“If they do not, they may be engaging in misleading conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.”
Almost one in five complaints to the ACCC in the first 10 months of this year were about the impact of COVID-19 on travel.
At least 24,210 travel-related complaints were made – an increase of 497 per cent compared to the same period last year.
Outgoing Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told Today that for businesses to maintain public confidence, they needed to “provide refunds and credits and do so as quickly as they possibly can”.
However, he also reminded consumers it would take some time for businesses to work through given there was a “huge wave” of people looking to cancel or change their plans at very short notice.
“My heart goes out to all across this equation; people who aren’t going to be able to reconnect with loved ones, but also businesses who just thought they were about to get back on their feet,” Senator Birmingham said.
“These sorts of disruptions come at huge cost in terms of many small businesses, many people whose livelihoods depend on this work, and it’s why we do want to see travel resume as quickly as possible.”
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He encouraged travellers and businesses to show compassion and encouraged people, who could afford to, to take a travel credit and rebook.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will on Wednesday morning outline the state’s plan for coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period.
The state recorded only eight locally acquired cases on Tuesday, sparking optimism NSW has the cluster under control.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is in Canberra with his family, on Monday said he understood it was “deeply disappointing” that some of the family reunions that might have happened this Christmas won’t.
“But they will happen in the New Year. People will get together,” he said.