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Due to travel to Greece and unsure of your rights in the wildfires? Dean Dunham tells you everything you need to know
24 July 2023, 18:25 | Updated: 25 July 2023, 06:32
Whether you're already in Greece or you want to cancel an upcoming trip, here's everything you need to know about your travel rights.
Wildfires are raging on the Greek island Rhodes, causing havoc for holidaymakers, many of whom have had to evacuate their hotels and flee to safety. Despite this, the UK Foreign Office still has not deemed it unsafe to travel to the island, leaving holiday makers uncertain of their rights if they either want to cancel a forthcoming trip to Rhodes or abandon their holiday early if they have already travelled.
Here's all you need to know:
Your rights to cancel if you haven’t yet travelled
Before doing anything, you should first check that your holiday is not going to be cancelled by the hotel or holiday provider/organiser. If it is, you will be entitled to a full refund, unless you accept an alternative holiday.
If your holiday is not cancelled and you booked a package holiday (i.e. travel and accommodation together), Section 12(7) of the Package Travel Regulations says holidaymakers can cancel and demand a full refund "if unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occur at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity which significantly affect the performance of the package or the carriage of passengers to the destination".
In my view, a wildfire in the vicinity of the area you are flying into, or staying at, falls squarely within this so could give you grounds to cancel with a full refund. Several holidays to Rhodes up to and including Sunday, July 30 have already been cancelled by operators. This is evidence which could support a claim that it is not safe to travel to Rhodes during this period.
If you did not book a package holiday you will not be protected by the Package Travel Regulations and instead will need to liaise with the individual providers of the elements of your holiday (flights, hotels etc.) and ascertain what the terms and conditions say about cancelling.
Your rights if you want to cut your holiday short
As matters currently stand, it is unlikely you will receive a refund if you cut your holiday short out of ‘choice’. Your holiday provider will therefore likely claim you did not need to do this as your accommodation was still available and habitable.
However, if the UK Government announces it is unsafe to travel to your location this will give you the right to fly home early and demand a partial refund.
Likewise, if you are not on a package holiday and the local authority announces it is unsafe, you can claim a partial refund from your accommodation and leave. However, you may struggle in these circumstances to change your flight arrangements free of charge.
Your rights to compensation if you have to abandon your holiday
Whilst you will be entitled to an appropriate price reduction to take account of the holiday being cut short, you are unlikely to receive compensation. In relation to a package holiday, this is because the Package Travel Regulations provide that compensation does not need to be paid in circumstances where the holiday was cut short due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and in my view the situation in Greece will fall within this.
If you are not on a package holiday, your hotel provider is likely to say this is a ‘force majeure’ event (act of God) and covered by its terms and conditions – the effect being it will have no liability.
It is most unlikely that your travel insurance policy will contain a specific clause covering wildfires. Normally, a travel insurance policy will not cover you if you wish to cancel your flight or holiday, unless the UK Government has issued advice against travelling to a particular country. So far the UK Government has not done this regarding the wildfires in Greece.
That said, if you have a pre-existing medical condition which would be exacerbated by the extreme heat, you may be able to claim a refund under the terms of your insurance policy.
However, a word of warning, if you have a pre-existing medical condition that could be worsened by extreme heat, your insurance provider may use this as an excuse to reject a claim, stating you were on notice of the extreme heat before you travelled.
Your rights to assistance
The Package Travel Regulations placed an obligation on your tour operator to make suitable alternative arrangements, at no extra cost to you, for the continuation of your holiday. This could mean moving you to alternative safe accommodation or, if this is not possible, arranging transport for you to get back to the UK.