Comment: Agents must be wary of misleading customers on Atol

Comment: Agents must be wary of misleading customers on Atol

By Ian Down, partner at travel law firm Hamlins LLP

With the CAA’s amnesty towards achieving compliance with the changes to the Atol regulations now at an end – and the CAA being likely to take a robust line to enforce compliance – should the travel sector be concerned?

Well, those attending the Abta Travel Law Seminar last week were unlikely to conclude otherwise. The expert consensus was that the impact on every travel business dealing with flights is considerable.

Moreover, delegates were reminded of the need for agency agreements, and of the dangers if an agent incorrectly relied upon a flight or package provider’s Atol licence when needing to be accredited in its own right.

And timely warning was given that an agent could bring on itself the added burden of needing to hold an Atol, for example, simply by setting its own prices or not reporting prices back to the provider.

Unfortunately, the uncertainty over the need for agents’ accreditation will inevitably increase the chances of falling foul of other Atol regulations, particularly the strict requirements covering the reproduction of the logo.

Agents marketing a mixture of protected and unprotected products will need to take great care not to falsely imply Atol protection or give consumers the impression of being an accredited agent or a member of a trade association if not one.

However, as Emaan Travel has just found out, the risk of censure for agents of becoming confused about these marketing requirements is not from the CAA alone. It was the Advertising Standards Authority who pursued Emaan Travel and upheld an adjudication against it on May 30, not the CAA.

Travel agency Emaan Travel fell foul of the ASA’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code for misleading consumers when on one of its websites it left little room for consumers to doubt that it had Atol and Iata accreditation.

Under the heading “Your Financial Protection”, the website stated: “The air holiday packages (or Cheap flights) shown are Atol protected, since we hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence granted by the Civil Aviation Authority.”

Understandably, Emaan Travel was required to promise to avoid making such statements until they were correct.

On another of Emaan Travel’s websites, the ASA also adjudicated against it for implying that it was accredited simply by reproducing the logos.

If this weren’t cause enough for agents to tread carefully with their marketing, it’s worth remembering that use of the Atol or Iata logo without authorisation, claiming to be an accredited agent when not and claiming that a product is covered by an Atol, are all automatically unfair commercial practices under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

While Emaan Travel might feel aggrieved to have been named and shamed by the ASA, it would have been worse had the OFT or Local Trading Standards not previously declared that their policy is to hold back from taking criminal proceedings in these situations, where the ASA is able to deal with the situation satisfactorily.

The question agents may still want to ask themselves is whether the CAA feels the same way.


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