Did you know that France has a tourism mediator that can help you sort out problems with transport, accommodation, or flights in case of no (or a poor) response from the provider? Here is how it works.
The Médiateur du tourisme et du voyage is a free service - like an ombudsman - for travellers who have not managed to resolve travel problems via the usual channels.
It was created in 2011, and offers free, confidential advice and help. It aims to mediate between parties and solve the dispute amicably, without either party feeling the need to escalate the problem to court.
In 2022, it received more than 18,000 requests nationwide for mediation. Two-thirds of the cases centred on customer complaints about airline responses following flight cancellations.
Which services can the mediator help with?
The mediator can help with issues for:
Flights and transport (coach, ferry)
Food and restaurants (in some instances)
Each provider involved in the dispute must have signed the ‘Charte (charter) de la Médiation du tourisme et du voyage’ to show that they have agreed - at least, in theory - to the mediator’s terms, and to the body becoming involved in case of a dispute.
Incidentally, SNCF is one notable transport provider that has not signed.
If the companies or agencies have signed the charter, you can proceed with mediation via the service.
When can I ask the mediator to step in?
Before it steps in, you will need to show that you have done everything you can to achieve a resolution to the issue in the normal way.
This includes contacting the company’s customer service or helpline, contacting the provider directly, and/or submitting a complaint via the appropriate channels and following the company’s complaints procedure.
If the provider does not respond within two months, or you are not happy with their response and cannot find a resolution, you can then ask the mediator to step in.
You must ask for the mediator’s help within one year of your first written complaint or communication with the provider about the issue at hand. The communication must be written - either via email or letter - as proof (or a ‘paper trail’) of your efforts.
The mediator can only step in if you have not already had mediation for the issue, or taken it to court previously.
You can start a mediation claim via the government website here.
Is the service effective?
In a word, yes. In 2022, 98% of cases taken on by the mediator were able to find a resolution.
The mediation service sometimes also adds its voice to the industry, and calls for better processes within travel companies.
In March 2023, it denounced operating practices at some online flight reservation platforms, and said that their refund policies in case of cancelled flights were “opaque”, and that the platforms sometimes look to shift any blame or responsibility directly onto airlines.
The service also has a brand new boss; Jean-Pierre Mas has been in his role as the Mediator since January 2, 2024, when he took over from former head Jean-Pierre Teyssier. A law graduate, Mr Mas was previously head of the travel union Entreprises du Voyage, and is a travel entrepreneur.
Apart from air travel, the service’s other main area of complaint concerns holidays booked via travel agencies, and in rarer cases, problems with accommodation and cruises.
During the pandemic - which, of course, caused pandemonium among travel and tourism companies and flight operators, many of whom had to refund every single customer - the number of complaints to the mediator skyrocketed, and has remained very high ever since.
This is thought to be linked to a complicated geopolitical climate, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.