The system for protecting your holiday cash if a travel company goes bust (ATOL) is about to be reformed. But will it be easier to understand? I’m not entirely convinced.
What’s the most important thing on your mind when you book a holiday?
For me it’s likely to be the temperature in the destination, the departure time of the flight, and whether there’ll be a nice bottle of wine in the villa’s welcome pack.
Any thoughts about what will happen if things go wrong will be right at the bottom of the list.
When I book a holiday I want to think about how much I’m going to enjoy myself, not about the possibility of the airline, hotel or car hire firm going bust. So looking out for an ATOL logo, which provides repatriation and refunds if a holiday firm fails, is going to be the last thing I do.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve never booked with XL, Goldtrail, Freedom Direct, Libra Holidays, or any of the other travel companies that have gone bust in the last few years. If I had, and been one of the tens of thousands who lost their holidays, I’d have wished I paid more attention to the logos attached to my booking.
The difficulties faced by the people who did book with travel companies who have gone bust is one of the reasons the Department for Transport is proposing to overhaul the ATOL system.
It’s still not simple
It wants to replace the current ATOL system (which protects only trips meeting the legal definition of a package holiday) with one that will include any flight booked with another holiday component, such as accommodation.
The reforms are intended to protect more of us, and make it simpler to understand, by requiring travel companies to issue customers with a certificate stating what is protected and what is not.
But the proposed new system is still complicated. Airlines are exempt from ATOL, so you’ll have no luck if you’re booking through them. Plus, the protection will apply only if you buy your holiday’s components within just two days.
The new system also doesn’t apply to travel agents who can show they are technically buying the holiday for the customer, rather than selling it to them.
A long way to go
Are we really going to get to grips with this when we’re thinking about a sunny beach? Even if customers are given an ATOL certificate, will they know what it means, and will they know the difference between ATOL and other industry logos like ABTA or AITO?
And how will they know if the certificate they have been given matches the reality of what they have bought?
The proposals are a step in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go before we have a clear and simple scheme that can be understood in the time customers are likely to devote to thinking about the issue.