Atta Legal: Coronavirus Update - 25 Feb 2020

Atta Legal Advisor Alan Bowen comments:

The rapid spread of the Coronavirus which is now reaching Europe, is becoming a major crisis worldwide and I do worry that demands for refunds are going to push some operators out of business.

There is currently no advice against travel to Africa because of the Coronavirus (there is only a single case reported in Egypt) but I am increasingly aware of a rapidly developing view of customers who do not want to travel anywhere at all. We have previously discussed clients from the Far East and I think the advice to allow cancellation or a delay to travel must remain in place, if only to reduce the risk of other customers demanding to cancel to avoid meeting them in Africa.

From anywhere else however, unless and until the FCO or similar overseas government advises against all but essential travel, suppliers are entitled to rely on their booking conditions and advise that if clients wish to cancel they will be subject to the usual cancellation charges. All the evidence is that insurers are also taking a hard line and will not refund losses due to a disinclination to travel.

Commercially of course that may not be the best line to take in the longer term but it certainly protects the short term position. Things may change of course if Corona is established in any country in Africa. Since the introduction of the new Package Travel Directive in 2018 there is a term, which has never been tested as far as anyone knows, in the UK it is translated, word for word, into 12 (7) which states

In the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity and which significantly affect—

(a) the performance of the package, or

(b) the carriage of passengers to the destination,

the traveller may terminate the package travel contract before the start of the package without paying any termination fee.

If there was evidence of Corona in an adjoining African country, it  might lead customers who are aware of this directive, to argue that it gives them the right to cancel free of charge. I certainly wouldn’t offer free cancellations at the present time, but  Atta members need to be aware of that the longer term commercial consequences of sticking to the legal position at present, could  well damage client relationships for the future.

Alan Bowen
AGB Associates