The UK’s top-10 Atol-holders have increased their authorised capacity for this summer by almost 15% despite uncertainty about Brexit putting pressure on sales.
The Atol (Air Tour Operator’s Licence) scheme provides consumer financial protection in the event of a company failure, in line with the EU Package Travel Directive (PTD).
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) published details of the leading Atol-holders on Monday following the March renewals, showing the 10 largest licence holders authorised to carry almost 18.8 million passengers, up from 16.4 million a year ago.
These show online travel agents We Love Holidays, which owns Loveholidays, and On the Beach anticipate substantial growth.
We Love Holidays is authorised for an additional 429,000 passengers, up 53% on a year ago, and On the Beach for an additional 345,000, up 26%.
Yet with last September’s renewals factored in, the overall increase in protected holidays by the top 10 is 2.4 million.
By contrast, the 10 largest Atol‑holders sought authorisation for only an additional 325,000 holidays a year ago, a rise of 2% on April 2017.
The sharp increase is due to a combination of added capacity and to previously unprotected sales being brought into Atol in line with new Package Travel Regulations which came into force last July.
Jet2holidays, the tour operator arm of airline Jet2.com, increased its Atol authorisation by almost 874,000 last October.
Tui added 291,000, Thomas Cook 82,000, British Airways Holidays 183,000, and easyJet moved into the top 10 for the first time with an Atol for its airline of 705,000.
Industry legal advisor Alan Bowen said: “A lot of people in the past were getting away with selling flights as agent to the consumer [and] if you were just selling seat-only you didn’t need to protect those.
“Some have thought ‘better bring those back into Atol’ so they can tell people they are protected.”
At the same time, some OTAs have cut their Atol capacity. Expedia’s Atol, renewed last October, licenses the giant OTA for 238,000 fewer protected holidays in the current 12-month period – a 17% decline.
Emirates-owned Travel Republic is licensed for 56,000 fewer protected holidays, or 9% less.
However, Spain-based OTA BravoNext added 183,000 in Atol capacity, a near-50% increase.
Bowen expressed surprise at the increase in capacity by tour operators, saying: “The UK short-haul market is enormously difficult and there is huge competition.
“There is no sign of easing. It’s causing huge issues. The airlines are holding constant sales.”
Industry analyst GfK reported UK summer 2019 bookings down 11% year on year in the week to Saturday, April 6, following a 5% fall on the comparable week in the last week of March.
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