Coronavirus changes plans


What Human Rights Defenders, Lawyers, and Civil Activists Discuss This Week

Do not take off, do not swim. Due to the spread of the coronavirus, governments of different countries quarantine and close to travelers. Air carriers cancel flights. And what are the tourists left with?

Cheers? The World Health Organization has announced the coronavirus pandemic. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that the threat of spreading this virus in the country is minimal.

Video version of the program

Maryana Torocheshnikova: Coronavirus for all and the crown for Putin are perhaps the most discussed topics this week in Russia. But we will focus on the virus. More precisely, how the history of the spread of this infection has already affected the plans of many people, in particular, those related to business and family trips, as well as vacations. In Russia, many have already learned how to plan them ahead of time. Now everything is somewhat foggy.

In the studio with me – Executive Director of the Association of Tour Operators Maya Lomidze, and on a video link with us, the chairman of the All-Russian Tourist Association Roman Bobylev.

Maya, did the coronavirus seriously disrupt vacation plans and current business trips?

Maya Lomidze: I think this is a rhetorical question that does not require an answer. You can not have any relation to tourism, just listen to people on the street, in a cafe or in office premises – it seems that everyone is discussing only one thing: where they did not cancel tickets, where they wanted to go, but now they can’t. Or stories related to their loved ones and relatives who were in a similar position. Therefore, of course, seriously affected everyone.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: But is it difficult or easy to cancel a ticket? We will talk about this a bit later. And most importantly, not just cancel, but return the money in full.

Now tell us, please, in what condition is, including the tourism industry in Russia. I know that the Ministry of Economic Development turned to tour operators and asked for some information about the costs. And they kind of promised you to compensate for non-refundable tickets.

Maya Lomidze: Unfortunately, no one has made such promises yet. We addressed both the supervising Deputy Prime Minister Chernyshenko and Mishustin – this was back in late February, when only China seriously undermined the position of the business working in this area. And the last appeal was to Belousov and Reshetnikov, the Minister of Economic Development, with a package of measures already developed that could help keep the industry from collapsing.

That is, the tourism industry, in spite of the blows that are pouring in at some fantastic frequency, is not yet in a crisis situation. But all of us who work in this industry are related to it, we do not want it to be in this crisis situation.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: It is clear that, by and large, travel companies are not involved in charity and are not required. On the other hand, officials say that everyone should be refunded for failed trips, despite the fact that, it can be assumed, tour operators and agencies have already incurred some expenses. Will this money really be returned? Is there where to return, for example, money for a failed trip to Israel? Because it can be assumed that a person bought a ticket to Israel, on a pilgrimage, to travel to holy places for 5 days, but now he understands: in order to travel to Israel for 5 days, he needs to live in quarantine two more weeks upon arrival in Israel, before than he will be released into the country.

Maya Lomidze: And the question is why? Isn’t it better to postpone the trip for about a month and go on a pilgrimage tour just a little later? Do not get the money right away and then buy a tour, but simply postpone the trip. Such an option also exists.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: Is there an option to wait?

Maya Lomidze: Reschedule travel dates.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: And how willingly are they now?

Maya Lomidze: Differently. I can’t give you statistics on how many people want to receive money immediately, how much they are willing to transfer, because it is all divided equally. There is another option – to reorder to another direction. True, the number of directions to which you can be rebooked is reduced every day. Literally today, the Czech Visa Center at half past four in the evening announced that tomorrow the Visa Application Center is not working and does not accept documents for applying for a visa. But people still planned, despite the state of emergency, to go there. And so, as they say, without warning … We even wrote to the consulate, asked to give at least a week. People are not going to refuse. There are those who are not ready to refuse. And exactly the same amount was, for example, in Italy, when Italy was closed.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: And it was possible to find on the Internet a video of people walking in half-empty Venice, which had just woken up after a flood, and then the coronavirus happily says: “How good! There are finally no tourists here.” On the other hand, how they then return to the country is not clear.

Maya Lomidze: Most, I would say, slipped through.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: Roman, are there any calls to you from people who have encountered problems related to returning money for a failed trip, returning money for so-called “non-refundable” tickets? It seems that the government promised that everyone will be returned if the country where they were going to go was closed.

Roman Bobylev: Of course, there are such appeals. But it cannot be said that they are massive, catastrophic. It should be recognized that tour operators have met the majority of tourists and consumers and are trying to somehow get out of this rather difficult situation. There is a rebooking, there is a rescheduling. Somewhere (less often) there is a refund. But here the situation is clear and understandable. When we use the mechanism associated with a threat to security in a particular direction, then tourists have the right to receive the full cost of a tourist product. It is right. Tour operators have no obligation to return the money. Right – it is voluntary. Accordingly, if tour operators do not voluntarily resolve this situation, then tourists have the right to go to court, where penalties for tour operators during the trial will be disproportionate. That is, they can reach up to 150% of the cost of a tourism product. Therefore, tourists, on the one hand, understand that it is rather difficult to return money, quickly and in a short time, in cash, so to speak, so the situation here is clear. That is, the tour operator through a travel agency is trying to pick up some tour that meets the requirements of a tourist, change direction, reschedule, take some measures to this. There are issues related to deposits, including which remain …

Maryana Torocheshnikova: We are talking mainly about operators, but now we have very many people who have learned to travel independently – to book tickets on their own, to book their own accommodation, hotels – Airbnb and other services. Can these people somehow return their money, for example, if they bought tickets to Prague that are irrevocable now? It is known that a “state of emergency” has been declared there since the evening of today. And a man bought tickets for himself before the New Year, perhaps by stock. Will he be able to return this money, demand back from the airline? Or is there only one option – to rebook at a later date? What should he do in this situation?

Roman Bobylev: It all depends on the airline and on the specific financial capabilities of the carrier. Large airlines are moving towards consumers, air passengers, accepting this as a “forced failure”. And accordingly, they offer either a real transfer or a refund. This situation is working, and it still depends on the airline. But I assure you, airlines are looking for a way out of this situation. And the Federal Air Transport Agency is following this process. Therefore, the areas that we actually close, they do not have the opportunity to carry out air transportation, then there is either a replacement, a rebooking, or a refund.

Maya Lomidze: Indeed, it is. Regarding the return of tickets, regarding independent tourists who book themselves. It is clear that it all depends on the conditions under which they booked. There is accommodation that is booked … an irrevocable, very low price, and it is impossible to return the money. Accordingly, this money burns out. Similarly for non-refundable tickets. But when we talk about non-refundable tickets, it depends on why the tourist cannot fly out. If the airline, as is now the case with Spain and France, according to the Rosaviatsia telegram, took off all flights, is forced to take off because the regulator said so, the flight did not take place not because the direction was closed, flights were canceled. And then the carrier immediately voices the terms of the return. Either this is a public announcement, a public offer, or a full refund for a ticket, even at a non-refundable rate, or a re-reservation to other dates after a certain date (usually some May) is offered. In the case of these countries, it is not possible to redeploy to another city, because the cities that remained there are almost Aeroflot flights, there are practically no other carriers for flights there. That is, it all depends on why the person cannot get to where he cannot get.

If the country is declared unsafe, then it turns out that the carrier does not have the responsibility that he cannot fly there. Or that a tourist refuses to fly there, because the country is unsafe. And here the options are already possible. There is already what is called how to agree. In most cases, it has so far been that if the tariff is non-refundable to a country declared unsafe, for example Italy, the carrier tried not to return this money. Then there was some pressure from the public (we also tried to make every effort to do this), and it was said that even at irrevocable tariffs some payments or transfer of dates would be made. That is, some progress.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: But again, these are all some levers of influence and pressure from officials …

Maya Lomidze: Depends on why it’s impossible to fly where you wanted to. This is a direct relationship. If it is clear that the carrier takes off the flight, he fulfills his obligations to the full and even returns the money at non-refundable rates. If the carrier is not responsible, he cannot take it there, because the country is unsafe, air traffic stops, and so on, then options are possible.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: You have already repeated several times that there is an option – you can rebook something at a later date. But will the price remain the same?

Maya Lomidze: Is not a fact.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: And now the ruble is not feeling very comfortable …

Maya Lomidze: Absolutely, I would say.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: That is, it can be assumed that if at the beginning (or at the end of last) of the year you were counting, say, to fly to Israel or Italy for a week for one amount, then when you rebook everything, it will cost you twice, or even three times as much the pace.

Maya Lomidze: Agree, there is no fault either of tour operators or carriers of what happened to us like this with the course. Well, it happened like this … It’s sad everyone.

Maryana Torocheshnikova: That is, it will not be possible under any circumstances to say: “Expensive travel agency, dear tour operator! We agreed that you will send me to Italy for such a sum. I will not go now, and there’s nothing to take me to, but let’s suppose in June you will take me there for the money “? Is this option impossible?

Maya Lomidze: It is possible provided that all service providers within this tour will not set additional requirements. It is necessary to fly to Italy. If it is possible to agree with the airline (and this began to happen in the last week) on the postponement of the departure date and the invariance of the price, that is, the tour operator does not pay the carrier anything for the already purchased tickets, then they will not take anything from the tourist. But if an additional payment is requested from a tour operator, then he accordingly requests this additional payment from tourists. That is, such an option is possible, but, frankly, taking into account exchange rate fluctuations and a decrease in demand in general, it is possible, but unlikely.


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