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Will coronavirus affect my travel plans? Check the fine print

Extreme weather events in Australia and the recent outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in China, may leave you wondering where you stand in terms of cancelling, rescheduling or getting a refund on holiday accommodation bookings, flights and other travel plans.

Under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), affected consumers may be eligible for a refund if a booking has been impacted by events beyond your control, Office of Fair Trading Executive Director Brian Bauer said.

“For example, if the particular accommodation venue selected and booked by a consumer has been significantly impacted by natural disaster or closed to travellers, the consumer would be entitled to a refund,” Mr Bauer said.

“Some overseas travel destinations are simply unable to be visited with airlines cancelling flights to certain destinations.

“Under these circumstances the consumer would be entitled to a refund under the ACL.

“We always advise people to have comprehensive travel insurance for significant travel purchases as this type of insurance will also help protect consumers against unexpected cancellation fees and charges.

“Smartraveller.gov.au is currently advising Australians not to travel to China due to the outbreak of Coronavirus and depending on a consumer’s policy, this may entitle them to a reimbursement, or partial reimbursement, on their travel expenses.

“Similarly, insurance policies may assist consumers when there are other impacts on their travel arrangements, such as when roads into a location have been closed or authorities have advised an area is not safe to enter.

“The OFT recommends that travellers check the terms and conditions of their booking provider, specifically for any cancellation policies, and check the conditions on their travel insurance policy.

“Consumers are reminded that they are not entitled to refunds for poor or less than ideal weather conditions, such as no snow at a ski resort or heavy rain on a weekend getaway at the beach.”

If you believe you are entitled to a refund, contact the business in the first instance. If you are unable to resolve the matter, you can lodge a complaint with the OFT if the company is based in Australia.

“Tourism is the lifeblood of many communities affected by recent natural disasters and OFT encourages international and domestic tourists to visit these areas and support local businesses,” Mr Bauer said.

For businesses based outside Australia, you can make a complaint through the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.

For more information, check out the Australian Consumer Law’s guide to travel and accommodation providers.