Time-share Holidays: Clearer Rules Soon Throughout The EU

The time-share holiday rights of some 1.5 million European families will soon be better protected. A draft EU directive, unanimously approved by the EU internal market committee on Monday, updates rules that are 14 years old so as to address consumer concerns and revitalise a business that is performing below potential.

Time share deals, which allow buyers to occupy holiday accommodation for specific periods in alternation with others, have won millions of takers worldwide since the 1970s. They are often sold as a cost-effective alternative to renting, hotels or a second residence. According to data from the Organisation for Timeshare in Europe (OTE), in 2001 there were 1.452 million holiday centres in 25 European countries, 1.4 million families using this kind of accommodation and 200,000 Europeans employed in this sector, with sales totalling €2.3 billion per year.
 
Since 1994, an EU directive has helped to harmonise time-share rules across the EU, but litigation between operators and holidaymakers is still frequent, notably about conditions and quality of service. Furthermore, new holiday products and services, similar to time share but not covered by the directive, have emerged. These include new types of holiday clubs giving holidaymakers reductions in the cost of their stays if they take out a subscription. Some of these new contracts clearly circumvent consumer protection rules.

More deals covered by consumer protection rules
 The revised draft directive, which supplements the general rules introduced by the recent directive on unfair commercial practices, will cover both time-share packages and new products that so far have escaped any legislation. Consumers will be better protected by rules that clearly state their rights, and will find it easier to go to court. Honest operators will no longer have to face unfair competition from fraudsters.
 
The text strengthens a series of existing harmonised provisions (right of withdrawal, choice of contract language, prohibition on deposits during the reflection period, pre-contractual information). Some consumer rights will be widened, e.g. MEPs would like to extend the withdrawal period to 21 days (compared with 10 days now and 14 proposed in the Commission draft).
 
MEPs did not back a proposal by rapporteur Toine Manders (ALDE, NL), who would have preferred a regulation (directly applicable throughout the EU), rather than a directive (which must be transposed into Member States’ national laws), so as to achieve more thorough harmonisation.
 
By contrast, they advocated a higher standard of consumer protection for long-term holiday deals (e.g. clubs), to be paid for in stages, than for traditional time-share contracts. But, not wishing to push this distinction too far, they rejected amendments that would have introduced more restrictive provisions (obligation to register agencies, national registers of service providers, mandatory civil liability insurance), leaving it to Member States to decide whether to supplement their laws in this area.
 
Clearer rules for holiday firms
 The proposal aims to enhance consumer confidence and legal clarity, which are essential to the growth of this promising sector, via simplified EU-wide rules. Most time-share holidaymakers are from Germany or the UK, where most of the agencies are located, whereas most of the holiday centres are located in Spain, Italy, France and Portugal.

Procedure: co-decision, first reading — Plenary vote: July (Strasbourg)

19/05/2008
Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection
In the chair : Arlene McCarthy (PES, UK)


Source: http://www.europarl.europa.eu

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