The recent armed conflict that broke out on October 7 in Gaza has once again highlighted the complex regulation of package travel, especially regarding its cancellation and the liability regime.
Many have been affected by the situation, raising numerous questions. These concerns are not only for agencies but also for travelers, particularly those who were in the area when the conflict erupted.
What happens to travelers who were in Israel or nearby at that time and chose to return immediately, forfeiting the rest of their trip? Are they entitled to any reimbursement? And who should bear the costs of this repatriation?
The current regulation of package travel, despite recent amendments, falls short in addressing all these doubts. The purpose of a law is not to foresee every possible situation – an utopian and impossible task – but to establish general guidelines so that with minimal interpretation, the majority of cases can be addressed. For situations not covered by the law, or those that are covered but lack a clear or unambiguous solution, the courts will determine the appropriate interpretation.
This is the case with the conflict in Gaza. The primary question is who should bear the costs of repatriation for travelers in the area at that time.
The answer lies in the Consumer and User Law, which governs package travel. Specifically, Article 161.6 of this law states that the organizer is responsible for any incidents occurring during the package travel. If these incidents affect a substantial part of the trip, the organizer must offer the traveler an alternative to return to their country of origin.
Therefore, according to the Consumer and User Law, the organizer of the package travel is responsible for managing the repatriation of all affected travelers, without additional costs and as quickly as possible.
But what happens when the traveler rejects the options offered by the organizer and decides to find other ways to return? Should the organizer bear the additional expenses incurred by the traveler for managing their own return?
The answer is no. The law implies that it is the organizer, not the travelers, who decides by offering repatriation alternatives.
According to the Consumer and User Law, the traveler can only reject the organizer’s alternatives if they are not in accordance with what was contracted or if there are undue delays. Unless these circumstances apply, the traveler cannot reject them. If they do, it must be at their own expense.
However, this issue is not trivial. The law’s criteria for justifying the rejection of the organizer’s alternatives (not in accordance with what was contracted or undue delays) are vague and imprecise. It’s unclear when the organizer’s alternatives can be considered non-compliant or delayed. It’s also uncertain when a traveler is justified in rejecting them. This leads to a conflict over who should bear the extra cost incurred by the traveler in such cases.
This situation represents a ‘conflict of rights’: the organizer’s right not to incur more expenses than those imposed by law versus the consumer’s right not to bear additional repatriation costs.
In such cases, when the parties cannot reach an agreement, the courts will determine who should bear the repatriation costs of travelers who, being in the affected area when the conflict broke out, choose to reject the organizer’s options and decide to cover the cost of their return themselves.