Vacation abroad is no longer a castle in the air. Europe attracts with its tiny old streets, Turkey - with hotel service and Thailand - with exoticism. But the wider the geography of a traveler, the bigger the risks: hotels which do not correspond the picture in brochures, repellent food, delayed flights, etc. Europeans learned to defend their rights long time ago, while Ukrainians are still learning. ForUm has decided to find out what to do to defend the rights and secure high-quality vacation. 

Preparations for vacation include not only packing

"We had bought a tour to a five-star hotel, all inclusive, but when we arrived we were accommodated in a different place. They said there were repair works and we had to comply. However, the conditions of the new place had nothing to do with a five-star hotel. Room service did not change bed sheets even once in two week," complains Olena Agamova, who decided to go on vacation to Bulgaria.  

Having come back the woman demanded an explanation and compensation, but the tour operator only made a helpless gesture and said the contract did not provide for guarantees to be accommodated in the selected hotel or be compensated for inconveniences. 

"The worst thing is that I signed this contract myself. They gave me a bunch of papers, insurance, tour guide, but the most important things were written in small print. Obviously, it is hard to challenge something you agreed to," Olena adds.

Lawyer Andriy Kotygin notes that the most common mistake of all tourists is unwillingness to spend some hours to study the contract. "Ask for a contract copy in advance and study it thoroughly. Don't hesitate to ask questions or consult a lawyer. It is better to spend some hours reading that spoil the whole vacation," he recommends.

Unfortunately, there are only general provisions about unforeseen circumstances, stipulated in Ukraine's legislation, namely in Civil and Economic Codes. The law does not say how to solve financial disputes between sides and discharges of obligations both, operator and customer, in case of force majeure situation.

However, gaps in legislation are not a reason to despair. Lawyers say it is still possible to challenge. Thus, Andriy Kotyagin has had cases when tour operators compensated expenses. The lawyer also adds that Ukrainians should not be afraid to defend their rights, as the law "On tourism" has been operating in Ukraine since 1995. Despite its gaps, it protects tourists in the majority of cases.

Moreover, tour operators which care about their reputation, even ask their clients to consult a lawyer. Director of a Kyiv tour operator Olesya Mazurenko points out that before ordering a tour the client should ask for the license, even it is well-known company. "If some troubles happen on vacation anyway, address the administrator of the hotel, contact a representative of your tour operator and declare your claims immediately," she says. 

Olesya admits that there are many amateur on the travel services market, thus everything depends on pickiness and caution of travelers. "Don't be afraid to appear annoying if you read the contract 20 times, ask for the license and read feedbacks. Better safe than sorry," the girl recommends.
Experts agree that the major part of problems can be avoided yet on the stage of signing the contract. Moreover, to prevent possible conflicts the Association of tourism business leaders of Ukraine demands to introduce single contract, obligatory fro all tour operators. Members of the Association state that a single form of the contract is a common world practice, when consumers are protected at the state level.

Tours via Internet

Popularity of purchasing goods and services through Internet also covers the travel services market. More and more tourists prefer to dispense with support of tour operators, though such choice does not guarantee you will not have problems.

Olga Smalyukhovska decided to celebrate her birthday in Rome and booked a hotel room through Internet. Upon arrival she discovered that the information about the hotel location was not correct - one hour far from the center instead of promised 15 minutes.

"The hotel did not give any comments, as the information was provided by a Ukrainian website, and it is useless to go to court, as we did not have any tour operator to sue," she says.

Commenting on the situation, lawyer Andriy Kotyagin says that price rise for tours via internet should lead to introduction of amendments to Ukrainian legislation. "Unfortunately, internet does not observe the law. We use services through internet, but we cannot speak about protection of rights of internet-tourists," he specifies. 

On the other hand, Internet has its advantages. No doubts, internet is the biggest book of complaints, as you can read feedbacks of other tourists, to see real photos of hotels and ask for recommendations on forums.

Insurance policy and unforeseen circumstances

Medical and accident insurance is obligatory for tourists. No consulate of the EU or US will allow entry without medical insurance.

According to the law of Ukraine "On tourism", tour operators are obliged to provide their clients with such insurance. However, choosing an insurance policy, a traveller must pay attention to the level of coverage. The insurance policy must include two types of insurance: medical cost insurance and accident insurance. Minimal list of services your policy must cover includes assistance and emergency medical cost, acute outpatient and in-patient treatment, acute oral medicine, medical and transportation costs, repatriation, provision of medicines and contact with the insurance company. If you plan on active vacation, like skiing, quad bike riding, scuba diving, rafting, rock climbing and similar activities, remember that it is a high-risk category, so make sure your insurance policy covers such cases.

Tourists also can buy an insurance policy in any insurance company. "Such insurance is additional expenses, but in case of an accident you will have less problems to deal with," lawyer Pavlo Pasternak says.

In fact, tourists can insure everything: life, health, luggage loss, trip cancellation or delay. cancellation coverage, for example, will cost you 5% of the tour price. "It seems expensive, but such insurance will compensate 90% of the tour cost in case a tourist cannot leave whatever the reason," Pasternak adds.

Foreign practice and experience

European tourists also face similar problems, but European legislation is an efficient weapon to protect the rights. Thus, the Directive of the European Union on traveling was adopted in 1990, and the law is on the side of tourists.

Nevertheless, even Europeans complain on troubles during vacation.

Dane Susset Kier works in the Tourist Complaints center in Copenhagen and can tell many stories about spoiled vacation.

"If you are not happy with the hotel, or conditions differ from those described by a tour operator, it is a good reason to appeal to court and win the case," the girl says. She also adds it is not so easy to get a compensation, for this tourists bring photos and videos as a proof.

Susset says that the main difference between Ukrainian and European tourists is that the latters are not afraid to complain.

"Our tourists know their rights and will never buy a tour without previous examination of all conditions. If something is wrong, believe me, they will go to court. Moreover, a European tourists will write comments on internet or even contact mass media. In short, the image of a company can be rather tainted," Kier sums up.

Simple rules of a tourist

Before the travel, tourists must foreseen all possible force majeure situations, learn about their rights and not be afraid to protect them.

Summing up the recommendations of lawyers, tour operators and insurance companies, ForUm presents a short list of rules for every tourist to follow:

1. Find out who you deal with - a tour operator or a tour agent. Tour operators are legal entities, which have a license for organization of tours and provision of travel services. Tour agents are entrepreneurs, engaged into trade mediation activities, which are not subjected to licensing.

2. Control the amount of financial security of a tour operator  against the possibility of pay inability.

3. Carefully study the information a tour operator must provide before signing the contract, including traveling documents requirement, medical alerts, safety conditions in a country of temporary stay, etc.

4. Learn the conditions of insurance and level of coverage, including the list of uninsurable risks.

5. Study carefully and preserve your copy of the contract, which must specify details of the tour, including the period of stay and provision of travel services, characteristics of transportation, hotel category and nutrition, rules of entry and stay in a county, order and form of payment.

6. Remember that even after the conclusion of the contract the tour operator has a right to rise the price but no later than 20 days before the departure and not more than by 5% (in case of tariff changes for transportation, introduction of additional fees or taxes, exchange rate change, etc.)

However, in case of violation of terms (later than 20 days or higher than 5%) the tourists has a right to break the contract and the operator must compensate expenses in full.

7. Don't chase discounts or hot tours like "only today 90% discount". Remember that nothing is for free, and such adds are intended for naive tourists.

8. If troubles happen anyway, don't hesitate to demand compensation. Contact the hotel administration and representative of the tour operator, collect necessary proofs, address the host party in written form and keep the copy, inform the tour operator about low-quality services via e-mail.

Olga Karetnikova


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