Leading online travel agent Travel Republic appears to have drawn a line under years of wrangling with the CAA over UK consumer protection laws by applying for its first Atol licence.
The decision has been hailed as a major step forward for consumer protection and one that will strengthen the trade’s hand when it comes to lobbying for airline holidays to come under Atol.
Iain Andrew, divisional senior vice-president of Travel Republic parent dnata, confirmed the travel agent had applied for a licence at yesterday’s first Travel Weekly Business Breakfast event.
Andrew said the decision was left in the hands of Travel Republic which had previously fought and won a long legal battle against the CAA having been accused of breaching Atol rules.
After Monday’s Business Breakfast discussion Travel Republic managing director Kane Pirie declined to give any further details about the application but said:
“I can confirm that Travel Republic has applied for a licence to ensure that we are fully compliant with the new regulations.”
Pirie, who is an Abta board member, has continued to be an outspoken critic of Atol regulation throughout the reform process that saw the implementation of Flight-Plus start in April.
The decision ends speculation that Travel Republic might not drop its stance against regulation by the CAA by exploiting the so-called ‘agent for the consumer’ loophole in the Flight-Plus rules.
John McEwan, Abta chairman and Advantage Travel Centres chief executive, said Travel Republic’s decision was “really positive news”.
“It would have made things very awkward and left a big gap in the regulation if a major retailer had gone down the ‘agent for the consumer’ route.
“From an industry point of view Travel Republic has made the right decision. It really helps to give more clarity about what Flight-Plus is all about in terms of consumer protection and I think it strengthens our position as an industry when it comes to further dialogue with the government.
“This reflects well on the industry and what we now want to see as part of future changes to the regulations are airline holidays to be brought into the equation because we want a level playing field.
“There is certainly a willingness on behalf of the industry to comply. I have had confirmation that other retail members of Abta are also going down the same route. I have not heard of any retailer of any size going down the ‘agent for the consumer’ route.
“People are using different methods with some getting bonds and others using trust accounts but the underlying movement seems to be complying via Atol.”
Travel Republic’s decision means the two biggest independent online travel agencies in the UK will be offering Atol protection for the first time after On The Beach previously announced its trust-based arrangement with the CAA to cover all sales.
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