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Rainy days and belly aches: Finland to update package holiday refund laws

Finland is changing consumer protection laws for travellers which - among other things - will help dissatisfied holiday package customers to receive financial compensation when their holidays fall short of expectations.

Ihmisiä nauttimassa Torremolinoksen rannasta Espanjassa.
File photo of beach in Torremolinos, Spain. Image: Lòpez Perujo / EPA

When vacation time approaches, many choose to have their plans arranged by a holiday package company, often choosing sunny, southern destinations. A single reservation with one of these firms takes care of flights, hotels, meals, car rentals and more.

Following the EU's implementation of new guidelines on the issue, lawmakers in Finland are making adjustments to consumer protection laws governing package holidays.

The new laws - which are scheduled to be implemented early next year - lay out the ground rules for the reimbursement of consumers who use the services of package vacation companies.

The new legislation includes provisions for consumers' rights to compensation for "lost pleasure" - when holidays are ruined due to significant error on the part of the travel firm.

No refunds for rain

Because an "unsatisfactory vacation" leaves room for interpretation, the new laws spell out many of the terms. However, exaclty how much financial reimbursement unhappy vacationers could receive is still up in the air, according to Riitta Haapasaari from the justice ministry.

For example, if the laws are implemented in January as they stand, it will not be possible to claim refunds for rainy weather at a normally-sunny destination.

"Rainy weather for the duration of a package holiday in a [normally] sunny location is not the fault of travel agencies and does not merit reimbursement," Haapasaari says.

But under the new laws, package-buying holidaymakers would be entitled to reimbursement if, for example, they fall ill from food poisoning.

Haapasaari says that the EU has ruled that consumers should be compensated in cases of food borne illnesses when their restaurants or hotels have caused the problem.

"In one case a young girl came down with salmonella and was forced to stay in her hotel room. She was vomiting and and had diarrhoea the entire time of the vacation. A court ruled that as 'lost pleasure' which needed to be compensated," Haapasaari says.

Consumer compensation somewhat new

However, she says, this type of consumer compensation will be challenging because it is to some extent a new phenomenon in Finland.

When it's hard to determine whether a consumer is entitled to reimbursement or not, it complicates reaching the right level of reimbursement, she says.

"It is difficult to determine what the levels [of reimbursement] should be. In Finland, intangible compensation is usually fairly reasonable, so it will not likely be a question of huge sums of money," Haapasaari says.

The reimbursement sums will be determined by the courts, because there will likely be many disputes that will need to be settled, particularly in the beginning, she says.

Heli Mäki-Fränti, who heads Finland's travel agency union, says that many reimbursement demands will be handled by consumer protection agency officials.

She says that travel agencies fear that the new legislation concerning compensation for 'lost pleasure' will be a way for consumers to reduce their travel bills.

"Holiday package organisers cannot always influence what happens during a flight or at a hotel, or if hotels [really do] have all the facilities that they claim," Mäki-Fränti says.

The updates to Finland's travel package act legislation were motivated by an EU directive, which states that all member states must have the same policies on the issue.

Government has submitted the bill to parliament, and it is still under consideration by MPs.

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