From today it will be the law for travel agents to issue an ATOL certificate when taking a payment for a holiday. If a customer adds another product the agent will have to issue a new certificate and the client should take the document with them while heading abroad. Agents can only sell a tour operator if they have a written agency agreement, with certificates to be issued for package, Flight Plus and flight-only holidays.
Despite the introduction today the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will not advertise the scheme to consumers until January when it believes the majority of holidays are booked, according to Alan Bowen from AGB Associates. Speaking at the Elite Travel Group conference, Bowen added that airlines are unlikely to be included in the scheme since Simon Burns was appointed minster of state for transport, who is not as keen on the idea as his predecessor Theresa Villiers. He urged the industry to work more together and lobby about more clarity around consumer protection and also called for one protection scheme to be introduced across the industry.
“Government is keen to get out of the Air Travel Trust when it is in positive figures. Another scheme could see a £1 contribution for repatriation and a different scheme for refunds, otherwise insurance would be an option or a trust account for each company,” Bowen added. “The public’s recognition of ABTA could change if consumers realise they are not protected with them.”
Despite its imperfections Bowen and ABTA’s chief executive Mark Tanzer said the ATOL certificates and reform had taken the right step. Its attention will also be turned towards the Package Travel Directive over plans to not let a suggested 24 –hour cooling off period take place.
“Changes in financial protection are necessary. The fantastic growth in travel did not have the right regulations or laws in place and in this respect, regulations are playing catch-up with the industry,” said Tanzer.
The association has launched a ‘Your Protection Checklist’ to help agents with the implementation, while several travel companies including Vibe Software have launched products to automate the process.