In a concerted action by national consumer authorities co-ordinated by the European Commission an astonishing 382 out of 552 websites checked in 2013 did not respect European consumer law. As a result of vigorous enforcement action, 62% of the websites checked are now treating consumers as they should. The remaining 38% can expect further action against them as European authorities continue work to ensure that consumer rights are fully respected.
“One in three internet users in the European Union book travel and accommodation on line. They deserve to know that an on-line booking is safe and reliable. Of the 552 travel websites we checked, 62% are now in line with EU consumer legislation, thanks to the joint efforts of Member States and the Commission. I will not rest until consumers’ rights are fully respected and will seek to use the existing structures to achieve this.” said EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy, Neven Mimica.
Concerted screenings (also known as “sweeps”) of websites are regularly coordinated by the European Commission and carried out by national enforcement authorities, to identify breaches of consumer law and to subsequently ensure its enforcement. In summer 2013, national authorities checked websites selling air travel and hotel accommodation, including websites of both traders and intermediaries. A total 552 websites were checked,
Following checks and verification, national authorities found a total of 382 websites to be non-compliant with EU consumer law, while only 31% of the websites checked complied with EU rules. National authorities subsequently either contacted national companies which run the non-compliant websites in order to bring them in line with EU consumer law or for companies from other Member States asked the assistance of the competent Member State,. To date, 173 websites have been corrected, bringing the total number of compliant websites up to 62% of the total websites checked. 209 websites are subject to ongoing proceedings, including 52 commitments by traders to correct their websites.
What has been checked exactly?
The websites were checked to determine whether information on the key characteristics of the services was easily accessible; whether the price was indicated at an early stage and inclusive of optional supplements; whether the websites provided email addresses to which questions and complaints could be submitted; and to see whether the websites contained terms and conditions available before the purchase and written in plain and easy to understand language. The main problems found were:
A lack of mandatory information on the trader’s identity, in particular their email address, depriving consumers from an effective contact channel. 162 websites (30%) did not contain this information.
A lack of clear instructions on how to complain. 157 websites (28%) did not provide this information.
Optional price supplements, such as baggage fee, insurance fee, priority boarding, are not on an “opt-in” basis. This problem occurred with 133 websites (24%).
The total price of the service is not indicated up-front when the main elements of the booking are first displayed. 112 websites (20%) failed to give this information.
What happens next?
Administrative or legal proceedings continue at national level for the 209 websites which are still not compliant. In addition, certain practices in the travel sector are being further reviewed so that consumers have all the relevant information and can make informed choices.
A “sweep” is an EU-wide screening of websites, to identify breaches of consumer law and to subsequently ensure its enforcement. The sweep is coordinated by the European Commission and run simultaneously by national enforcement authorities based on the provisions of the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) regulation. The Travel Services Sweep took place in 27 EU Member States1, Norway and Iceland in June 2013. The “enforcement phase” is still on-going. This was the 7th sweep since 2007. Websites offering air travel and accommodation or both were checked; a website offering both services was counted twice.
A growing percentage of European citizens purchase travel services online: in 2012, 32% of European consumers with access to internet booked air tickets or a hotel online (Eurostat data e-shopping survey 2012). Travel, tourism and related sectors account for roughly 10% of EU GDP. European citizens made in 2011 more than 1 billion holiday trips, out of which nearly 80% in the EU.
1 Croatia did not participate in this sweep, as the screening phase (June 2013) took place prior to its accession to the EU.
For further information:
 Websites offering air travel and accommodation or both were checked; a website offering both services was counted twice. After the initial check 6 websites discontinued their operations and no longer exist: Cyprus 3, Poland 2, Slovakia 1.