Opinion: Change in Atol rules presents opportunities

Opinion: Change in Atol rules presents opportunities

By Guy Novik, founder and CEO of USAirtours.

It is rare for changes in law to bring anything other than commercial expense and administrative headaches. However the implications of a recent court case and the forthcoming changes in Atol licensing present a significant opportunity to those who can embrace them.

Firstly the outcome of the recent Qwerty Travel court case sent a clear message that if the sale of a flight plus another travel component ‘quacks’ like a package and ‘waddles’ like a package, a judge is likely to call it a package, regardless of how well the agent's booking conditions are worded.

This should send alarm bells ringing in those travel agencies who may unknowingly be acting as a tour operator, requiring them to take on the expensive legal and commercial responsibilities required under the Package Travel Directive.

While we can all pay our lawyers to argue over the implications of the Qwerty case, it will certainly not be the last time that a judge will rule in this way and should encourage those travel agencies affected to either step up and become a licensed tour operator, or simply buy their dynamic packages from a company that already is.

Secondly the forthcoming changes to Atol licensing represent yet another challenge to the beleaguered unlicensed travel agent who will not be able to provide their customers with the new Atol Certificate, unless they buy both the flight and other products from the same Atol holder.

During the protracted dialogue regarding the proposed Atol changes, our industry has given the CAA an unreasonably hard time, despite their unenviable task of trying to find a common denominator among our disparate views combined with their ministerial obligations.

While their proposals are far from perfect, they are pragmatic and will not only help their objective of replenishing the funds of the Air Travel Trust, it will ultimately drive more customers into the financially protective arms of Atol holders.

The recent demise of both Spanair and Malev should remind the public of the financial benefits when booking through an agent that sells Atol protected holidays, a benefit the industry would lose if the airlines were brought within the Atol scheme.

With the new Flight Plus changes soon to be enshrined in law, it is time for the whinging to stop and for us to take full advantage of the commercial opportunities that the CAA has indirectly presented to every Atol holder.


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