Many Australians are more than ready for a holiday trip or to see loved ones, but the risk of plans going awry due to border restrictions or lockdowns has caused many to hesitate.
Now, New South Wales will become the first state to mandate clearer cancellation policies for flights and accommodation as tourism restarts around Australia.
The rules would force companies to provide a minimum information standard for their terms and conditions, ensuring that the most important details aren’t relegated to the fine print.
Consumer group Choice welcomed the announcement as a first step, after calling for even stronger protections to boost consumer confidence in the travel sector.
“In October, Choice found that only 23 per cent of Australians felt confident about booking flights, accommodation or other travel services in the next 12 months,” Choice CEO Adam Kirkland said in a statement.
“The information standard announced today will reduce this confusion for people in NSW.”
He added that many travellers feel let down by existing consumer laws amid the looming threat of snap lockdowns.
Some travel insurance plans do cover COVID-related medical expenses, but they don’t cover any changes of plans if a government chooses to close the borders or impose a lockdown.
“This has left too many people out of pocket and struggling to navigate complex terms and conditions,” Mr Kirkland said.
However, the industry has already taken some steps to reassure prospective travellers.
People who book flights with Qantas or Virgin Australia using frequent flyer points can cancel or reschedule their booking free of charge.
While the exact terms vary between airlines and differ between domestic versus international flights, the schemes offer some peace of mind well into 2022.
The new rules for NSW will mean that even if flights or accommodation do come with potential cancellation or rebooking fees, consumers should have less trouble finding, understanding and comparing them.
Consumer advocates previously told TND that the government should legislate so that travellers can receive a full refund if their plans are ruined by something out of their control, such as a lockdown.
The NSW policy is a step in that direction.
“NSW is the first jurisdiction to act on the cancellation chaos that we’ve faced in the last two years,” Mr Kirkland said.
“Consumer affairs ministers across the country should be considering how they can make travel bookings easier and strengthen refund rights.”