Package tour is a very broad term referring to tourist services organised by a professional entity (tour operator), such as trips, holidays and tours. The term “package travel” is used in legal language. The term “package travel” applies only when:
- the offer is a combination of at least two tourist services, which constitute one programme and have a single price
- the offer includes overnight accommodation or the service is scheduled to last for over 24 hours
- the programme of the package provides for the change of place where the consumer stays.
The most common tourist services included in package travel are transport and accommodation.
Information included in the offer
Upon signing a contract directly with the tour operator or indirectly with a travel agent, you have the right to receive reliable and clear information about all aspects of the package travel.
The tour operator or the travel agent should provide you with all necessary information on the package tour in writing, before contract conclusion. Such information may be presented in brochures, folders and catalogues. The most important information for the consumer:
- price of the tourist service (or at least the method of its determination)
- place of stay or planned route
- type, class, category or characteristics of the means of transport
- location, type and category of accommodation, e.g. hotel
- number and type of served meals
- information on the sightseeing programme and other tourist attractions included in the tour operator’s offer.
Moreover, before contract conclusion, the tour operator must inform you about health requirements for participation in package travel, about passport, visa and sanitary regulations, as well as the possibility to take out insurance against the cost of resignation from package travel, and about the scope of accident and medical treatment costs insurance.
NOTE: You should be aware that all information provided to you before the contract is signed, and included in the catalogue or folder, constitutes a part of the contract.
Legality of travel agency operations
In case of any doubts, before signing of the contract, you can check whether a given travel agency operates legally. You will find information on whether a given travel agency operates legally (whether it is entered into the register) at the Central Register of Tour Operators and Travel Agency, available at www.turystyka.gov.pl.
You can also obtain such information from the Department of Tourism of the Ministry of Sport and Tourism or at the Marshal’s Office competent for the registered office of the operator.
The form of the contract is another key issue for consumers. In the case of package tours, contracts must be made in writing and should include exhaustive information on i.a.:
- the operator, its number of entry into the register and data of the person who signed the contract on behalf of the operator
- place of stay or planned route
- precise duration of the tour
- programme of the entire package (including the type, quality and date of provided services), e.g. information about the means of transport, accommodation, sightseeing programme, number and type of meals
- the price of the entire package (specifying all required dues, taxes and fees, if not included in the price) and description of circumstances which may result in the price increase spowodować podwyższenie ceny
- method of payment for the service
- information about insurance
- method of making complaints
- deadline for informing the consumer about potential cancellation of the tour due to the lack of sufficient number of customers.
Furthermore, before the start of package travel, the tour operator must provide in writing the name of its local representative (or other institution) to which the customer may apply in case of difficulties, as well as the address and number of such a representative (institution).
Change of material terms of the contract or its termination
A specific characteristic of package tours is the fact that they are frequently planned way in advance. The law specifies circumstances where material terms of contract may be changed, respecting interests of the consumer.
The tour operator must notify the consumer immediately, if – before the tourist service is provided – the operator must, for reasons beyond its control, change the material terms of the contract. The changes may concern e.g. price, hotel standard, date of departure. In such a case, the consumer may accept the proposed change of the contract or withdraw from the contract within a specified time limit. If the consumer withdraws from the contract, he/she receives reimbursement of all payments made and does not have to pay a contractual penalty.
If the consumer wants to resign from a concluded contract (for reasons attributable to the consumer, whether by his/her fault or not), he/she must pay the agreed price. However, in line with the current case law in Poland, the practice of travel agencies to charge 100% of the service value in the case of the consumer’s resignation has been limited. The consumer may be charged with some costs of withdrawal from the contract, in particular the operator may demand a contractual penalty and compensation for losses (e.g. advance payment for hotels, paid airline tickets for a specific name).
Package travel price modification
The general rule is that once a price is set, it should not be changed. In case of a deviation from this rule, a contract should explicitly define price increase circumstances. The law admits it only if the tour operator proves that one of the following situations contributed to a price increase:
- higher transport costs,
- higher official fees, taxes, etc. (e.g. airport fees),
- higher exchange rates.
Yet no matter what the circumstances, 20 days before the trip date the contract price cannot be changed. In some countries, such a change in price constitutes the basis for withdrawal from the contract by the consumer without any financial consequences.
NOTE: The regulations on price change terms concern both first and last minute offers.
As a rule, tour operators may not contractually exclude or restrict their liability for non-execution or undue execution of a travel services contract. In any case, even in the case of force majeure, such as flight cancelled due to bad weather, tour operators must assist tourists already on a package travel.
Undue contract execution
In the case of any irregularities in contract execution (such as lower-standard room), consumers should notify the tour operator immediately (in a way defined in the contract). It is best if consumers keep a written proof of such a notification: send an e-mail or ask the tour operator’s representative for a written notification confirmation. Regardless of the notification, consumers must file a complaint to the operator: the deadline is 30 days from package travel end date. We also advise the written form here. The tour operator must answer in writing, especially when the consumer’s complaint is rejected.
If the tour operator fails to reply to the complaint in writing up to 30 days since package travel end date, and if the complaint is filed after the package travel ends, within 30 days from the complaint submission date, the complaint is considered granted.
Calculation of claim and compensation amount
In Poland, tour operators can contractually restrict their liability for non-execution or undue execution of a service during a package travel to two times the package travel price for any customer. It does not apply to bodily injuries.
In the most typical situations, the so-called Frankfurt Table helps determine the claim amount. The table defines possible percentage reduction of total package travel price for particular irregularities, such as: different facility location, e.g. different distance to the beach, different room types, room deficiencies, e.g. no balcony, no sea view, no A/C, bugs, food deficiencies, e.g. rotten/cold meals, monotonous menu, no sports amenities (and no pool).
NOTE: The Frankfurt Table is not a binding legal act. It is an informal document prepared by the German National Court, successfully applied in practice in some other EU Member States.
The minimum legal standards in the European Union for protection of consumers who use travel services provided by enterprises with their registered offices in the Member States are laid down in Council Directive 90/314 of 13 June 1990 on package travel, package holidays and package tours (OJ L 158, 23.6.1990).
In Polish law, these issues are regulated by the Act of 29 August 1997 on travel services (consolidated text: Journal of Laws of 2014, items 196 and 822).