By David Moesli, CAA consumer protection group deputy director
With the most significant reform of Atol in the scheme’s history taking place, 2012 was always going to be a busy year for the travel industry.
Throw in the challenges of trading during a home Olympics and a sustained economic downturn, and it’s clear that travel businesses have their hands full.
At the CAA, we appreciate the hard work everyone has put in to prepare for Atol reform. We’ve seen from the many events we’ve spoken at throughout the year how awareness has moved to understanding, and understanding to implementation.
Thanks to this hard work, consumers now have greater protection from Atol, and it’s easier for them to understand the scheme, which is something we should all see as a positive step.
But Atol reform didn’t end with the introduction of Flight-Plus and agency agreements in April.
From October 1 this year, any business selling an Atol-protected trip must issue their customers with an Atol Certificate as soon as they receive any payment.
If they do not issue a certificate, they will be in breach of the regulations. It’s an important change that will make what can seem to some a complicated scheme simple for consumers: when they have an Atol Certificate they have protection.
Clearly introducing the certificate requires a great deal of work behind the scenes from travel businesses.
IT systems have to be set up and staff trained on when and how the certificate should be supplied. We’ve been doing all we can to help travel companies get to grips with all this, including running open days across the country, developing software to help deliver certificates, and publishing guidance on our website.
Over the coming weeks we’ll be beginning to raise the public’s awareness of the Atol Certificate, and will continue this work around the peak booking period.
With the certificate also a potential incentive for customers to book, we expect members of the trade will join us in spreading the word and making sure their customers are fully aware of the new certificate and the benefits it brings.
This of course means that holidaymakers will be coming to book with an expectation that they will receive an Atol Certificate.
The implementation date for the certificates was moved back six months to allow the industry time to prepare for it, so we expect that all holidaymakers will be given their certificates as soon as they hand over any money, from October 1.
So with the Atol Certificate about to follow the introduction of Flight-Plus and agency agreements, the first phase of Atol reform will soon be complete and attention will begin to turn to the second phase.
Bringing airline holidays and agent for consumer sales into the scheme have long been discussion points within the trade.
Primary legislation is required to enable this to happen and the Civil Aviation Bill currently going through Parliament includes provisions that would make it possible for the government to bring those types of bookings into the scheme.
The bill has been making good progress and has broad cross-party support. It will continue to be debated in the House of Lords when Parliament returns from summer recess.
The bill is expected to achieve Royal Assent next year, which will allow the government to move forward with consulting on changes to further strengthen the scheme.
For many in the industry this is, of course, key and it is vital to us in the CAA too, to further simplify financial protection for holidaymakers.
Until then, our focus remains on working with the trade so everything is in place for consumers to receive Atol certificates from October 1.
That marks the end of the first phase of Atol reform, undoubtedly bringing greater protection and greater clarity to holidaymakers.
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