As the summer vacation draws near, some are already thinking about their next trip. This is the case of Aurélie, a teacher, who contacted us via the orange button Alert us to tell us about her specific situation.
January 11, 2020: Aurélie and her husband Alex, who have been talking to a couple of friends for several months about their intention to introduce them to Guadeloupe, make up their minds. They book round-trip plane tickets from Orly airport to Paris to Pointe-à-Pitre online via the French company Corsair, as well as two accommodations via the Airbnb platform. Each plane ticket costs 500 euros, added to the accommodation costs, each couple pays a sum of 1,700 euros. The big departure is scheduled for October 31, 2020, the first Saturday of the All Saints holiday. Alex and Aurélie do not take cancellation insurance.
But now, they were far from imagining that two months later, Belgium would decree historic confinement to deal with the epidemic of the new coronavirus which has, in the meantime, left the borders of China to spread to all over the world.
Belgium bans tourist travel in red zones
Eight months later, their trip to this French overseas territory seems more compromised than ever. Guadeloupe has passed into the red zone on the Belgian Foreign Affairs website, which means that the risk of contamination with the virus for Belgian tourists is very high. On its website, the message is clear and highlighted in bold: “Belgium strictly forbidden tourist or non-essential trips to this area. “
For those who would be tempted to defy this ban, know that sanctions are provided for in the ministerial decrees taken as part of this crisis management.
In addition, the crisis center also specifies that the Belgian government has planned that “Travelers who, despite this ban, return from these areas will be treated as” high-risk contacts “and therefore subject to the obligation to undergo screening and quarantine.”
In accordance with regional legislation, failure to comply with the quarantine measures imposed can result in a report with possibly a criminal prosecution and a fine and these fines can be severe: from 208 to 4,000 euros.
Alex contacted the French company Corsair last Friday by phone to find out what steps to take for a potential reimbursement or to obtain a voucher. But the company replies that there is no constraint on travel to Guadeloupe at the level of the French government and therefore that the couple is not entitled to a refund or an exchange. Disgruntled, Aurélie tells us: “We therefore have two possibilities: defy the Belgian ban and go to Guadeloupe for our All Saints holidays or cancel our trip and lose the total amount invested.”
“If it’s just to lose money, I’ll leave”, estimates the teacher, who also knows that this will involve a fortnight on his return.
The couple do not understand why in the current circumstances, exceptional repayment measures are not automatically offered to them.
Aurélie and Alex are not the only ones in this case
The consumer organization Test Achats met with Foreign Minister Philippe Goffin in early September to share with him certain questions, concerns and uncertainties about travel to Europe, in the context of Spain, which had just been placed in the red zone.
According to Jean-Philippe Ducart, spokesperson for Test Achats, “since early July, 5,600 files were lodged with the organization concerning consumers who were concerned about seeing their flight or their trip canceled and / or not reimbursed in view of the circumstances “.
Test Achats affirms that the tour operators will cancel the trip when an area turns red and reimburse. On the other hand, if the traveler has made reservations on an individual basis with the airline concerned and the hotel on site, (and this is the case here for the couple formed by Aurélie and Alex), he must himself take the necessary steps to attempt to obtain a refund.
To help these people, Minister Goffin estimated at the beginning of September that the authorities could issue an official document attesting to the color attributed to the countries. This would allow the consumer to negotiate more easily with a service provider (air transport, hotel, etc.)
To this end, and given the number of important cases to be dealt with, the procedure has just been automated on the Foreign Affairs website. By filling this online form, the travelers concerned are issued a negative travel advice from the authorities. “This document has legal value. It certifies the impossibility of traveling and implies a cancellation and reimbursement of tourist services “, underlines Test Achats.
For the most difficult cases, note that the call center of the Foreign Affairs crisis center can be reached on +32 (0) 2 501 4000 from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Belgian time).
A departure? Please note, you will probably not be insured on site
Future vacationers would do well to inquire about the terms and conditions of their travel insurance. The Touring assistance service warned in early July that it will not provide travel assistance to people who would deliberately go to a destination described as a “red zone” by the authorities. Touring and Mutas, the travel assistance of various mutual funds, will on the other hand always provide their services to travelers who have left when a “risk zone” was still “green” at the time of departure.
Should you already cancel your trip planned for All Saints?
“Canceling a trip planned for November seems to me to be a rather hasty decision”, explains Jean-Philippe Ducart.
And to develop: “The color codes vary all the time and it is not impossible that Guadeloupe will go back to green. The instructions have been clear since the start of the pandemic. For all trips, you have to wait until the last moment to take any action. “, insists the spokesperson for the consumer organization.
In the meantime, Aurélie and Alex can cross their fingers and hope that Guadeloupe will change color by the end of October.