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Greek wildfires and your holiday rights

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Wildfires have torn across the Greek island of Rhodes, destroying buildings and displacing thousands of holidaymakers. But many tourists who have yet to travel this summer fear their plans could also go up in smoke.

Travel companies and airlines continue to monitor the situation as the Greek authorities battle to contain the fires, which are located in the south east of the island. Dramatic scenes of tourists being evacuated have dominated TV news bulletins, although travel businesses stressed that resorts in the north of the island are unaffected.

With no official UK government advice not to travel, it will be harder to obtain refunds from airlines, accommodation providers or claim for cancelled trips on travel insurance.

What are my rights if my holiday has been cancelled?
Some package holiday operators including Tui and Jet2 have cancelled all outbound UK flights and holidays in Rhodes this week as they repatriate returning customers, or relocate them to hotels in other parts of the island.

Package tour passengers who were due to travel between now and the end of July have been offered the choice of a refund, or alternative bookings.

The situation is less clear for those set to depart the UK on or after July 31. Travel firms say they continue to monitor the situation and will update customers in due course.

Areas of Rhodes worst affected by wildfires are Kiotari, Lindos and Lardos and travel companies are working with the Greek authorities to assess damage to hotels and resorts. However, northern resorts including Rhodes Town and Faliraki have not been affected.

“Large parts of Rhodes remain unaffected by the wildfires so holidaymakers in these areas should be able to continue their holidays, but should monitor the information from the local authorities and their holiday company,” said Abta, the travel association.

“We understand that some of the resorts have had their evacuation order removed by the Greek authorities and people have been advised that they can return to the resorts of Lindos and Pefkos.”

Wildfires in parts of Corfu — a much bigger island — have also caused disruption, and other islands including Crete remain on alert as high temperatures continue.

I’m getting cold feet about travelling to Greece. Can I cancel?
Travellers with upcoming holiday bookings in unaffected parts of Rhodes or other Greek islands may struggle to cancel for free.

“Without a Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) warning against travel to the affected regions, travellers who don’t want to go but are refused flexibility to rebook are likely to be left holding the bill for acting sensibly, and may be unable to claim on their travel insurance,” warned Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel.

Some package tour operators including Thomas Cook have offered a choice of alternative holiday destinations to customers who are unwilling to travel to resorts in the north of Rhodes, but this is very much at the travel companies’ discretion.

It’s trickier for those who have booked flights and accommodation separately — much will come down to the individual terms and conditions of bookings you have made, plus what is covered by your travel insurance.

If the accommodation you had booked is situated within an evacuation zone, travel experts say this would be a strong argument for a refund or so-called Section 75 claim if you have paid using a credit card.

Many airlines, including Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways, continue to operate flights to Rhodes and other Greek islands as normal, so are under no obligation to refund or rebook passengers who are simply “disinclined to travel”, in industry parlance.

This week, BA has been offering passengers booked on flights to Rhodes and Corfu the option of rebooking for free until the end of November.

EasyJet has cancelled package trips until July 29, but said that flight-only customers booked to travel to or from Rhodes until July 29 can switch for free to another date, or can request a flight voucher for the value of their unused flights.

What could be covered by my travel insurance?
The FCDO has advised travellers to make sure they have appropriate insurance before travelling to Greece. “Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency,” it said.

If flights or accommodation are cancelled, the Association of British Insurers recommends that refunds should be sought from the airline, accommodation provider or tour operator in the first instance.

“If your policy includes trip disruption or natural disaster cover you should be covered if you have to cut short or cancel your holiday due to the ongoing wildfires,” the ABI said.

“Check your policy details and speak to your insurer if you’re not sure what is included. If you’re injured or fall ill due to a wildfire, your travel insurance will of course cover you in the usual way.”

Abta said that package tour customers in Rhodes who have been flown back to the UK would be entitled to a “partial refund” of their holiday, but the precise amount would depend on how many days of their holiday were lost.

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