A retired Australian couple are fighting to get a refund of over €500 from a Paris hotel after their June 2020 trip had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The hotel is refusing to pay up, saying the couple could have rescheduled their trip to a six-week window when travel was possible at the end of 2021.
Jackie and Peter Gannon, aged 70 and 71 respectively, who live in Tasmania, were preparing for their last big international trip at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic struck, effectively ending their travel plans.
They had hoped to visit Mrs Gannon’s brother in London before heading on to Paris for three nights.
In January , Mrs Gannon booked a stay at the Hotel Eiffel Seine for June 8 to 11. When it became obvious that Covid would impact their holiday, she emailed the hotel to cancel, asking for reimbursement on April 19.
The hotel staff reminded her that her booking was non-refundable and non-changeable, but offered her a 12-month voucher.
Mrs Gannon replied saying she expected to be reimbursed, or at the very least offered a longer validity for the voucher, bearing in mind a new French regulation.
She was speaking of the government order 2020-315 issued March 25, 2020. It was created to help the tourism sector manage the many booking cancellations that occurred in the first year of the pandemic.
It gives businesses in the tourism sector, including hotels, the possibility of offering customers who have had to cancel their trip due to Covid an 18-month credit voucher, instead of immediately refunding them.
It covers trips booked between March 1 and September 15, 2020.
If the voucher is not used in these 18 months, the business should reimburse the full amount of the original booking.
What is the legal position for such refunds?
A legal advisor at the Centre Européen des Consommateurs France (CEC France), said it does not matter that Mrs Gannon’s booking was non-refundable.
“The order (2020-315) means that the traveller does not have the right, immediately, to get a refund. On the other hand, at the end of the 18-month period, if the voucher is not used, the traveller has a claim to be reimbursed for the entire cost of their booking,” she said.
“The order is a type of alternative to the usual legal rules.
“[However], a lot of businesses in the tourist sector were not well informed about this order, and did not have assistance or help.
“Still today, I have cases with clients seeking to get this voucher, and also I have cases, it’s rarer, where customers have not been able to get a reimbursement at the end of the 18-month period.”
After some back and forth with the hotel, Mrs Gannon was eventually offered an 18-month credit voucher worth the full amount of her booking, €507.
The 18-month period ended for Mrs Gannon and her husband on December 8, 2021. She re-contacted the hotel on December 15, asking for her reimbursement.
The hotel refused.
Mrs Gannon received an email saying that as there was no travel ban in place between Australia and France, there was nothing stopping her from making it to Paris to use her voucher.
“We offered you many times to postpone your stay, always extending your voucher deadline, now we are sorry but we won't be able to proceed to any refund nor offer you to reschedule your stay again,” the hotel wrote in an email to Mrs Gannon on December 16.
“Your voucher expired a few days ago and it was unfortunately the last deadline.”
The Connexion contacted the hotel to ask about this case, and was told by the manager that he did not believe the client was due a refund as travel was open between France and Australia within the 18 months.
When asked if he was sure of this rule, the manager said yes.
When asked if he would speak to The Connexion again if it turned out this was incorrect, he said he would not change his mind.
Outbound travel from Australia re-opened after around an 18-month shutdown on November 1, 2021. This means Mr and Mrs Gannon would have had just six weeks to plan, book and travel from Tasmania to France for a three-night stay before the voucher expired.
“They have no idea of our circumstances,” Mrs Gannon told The Connexion.
“My husband may have to have heart surgery this year. We have both turned 70. That was to be our last overseas trip. Our last hurrah. We’ll probably never travel abroad again.”
She added that in the six-week window that they could have travelled to France, they did not want to do so with Covid “still rampant”.
Mrs Gannon said that she had managed to get her money back for all the other elements of the trip, even bookings that were stipulated as being non-refundable. She had taken out travel insurance at the end of 2019, but it did not cover pandemics.
“It’s €507. We are retired and we can’t afford to let that money go.”
She said the hotel has stopped replying to her emails.
“They’ve kept my money, and given me nothing in return – not even the breakfast.”
Mrs Gannon has contacted the French travel and tourism mediator, la Médiation Tourisme et Voyage, and her complaint is being processed.
She said, though, that she found it hard to take action from so far away.
She has spoken to another Australian woman who managed to get a refund from a different Paris hotel on behalf of her parents. She phoned the hotel every day demanding a refund, Mrs Gannon said.
The legal advisor from CEC France said that she recommends travellers attempting to get vouchers or reimbursement to first try to negotiate directly with hotels, but admitted that it is complicated for foreign tourists to France.
If a trip you were planning had to be cancelled due to Covid rules, what’s been your experience getting a refund for accommodation or travel expenses? Please share feedback with us at firstname.lastname@example.org