Opinion: Consumers seek reassurance – Atol provides it

Opinion: Consumers seek reassurance – Atol provides it

Three out of four consumers rate Atol-protection important when booking a holiday, and that presents an opportunity to the trade, says Liam Hodge, head of insight for First Rate Exchange Services

After the turbulent year we have experienced it should come as no surprise to find that consumers are looking for reassurance about many aspects of their holidays abroad.

Reassurance about health scares, about the threat of terrorism, about natural disasters and, no less important, about the security of the holiday itself. As we approach Brexit, and with all the economic and political upheaval that may entail, it’s not surprising that holidaymakers want to know their trip abroad will be protected, and more important, that they won’t be stranded abroad if their operator goes bust.

These are very real worries for holidaymakers in today’s world, and those concerns are reflected in the results of our latest Holiday Confidence Index survey of over 5,000 British consumers.

There may be nothing the travel industry can do to stop the issues – natural and man-made – that have dogged the holiday market in recent times but, and it’s a big but, we can rise to the challenge by increasing customers’ awareness of the ways they can protect themselves and their holiday.

The fact that three-quarters of holidaymakers questioned in the survey rate Atol protection as being important to them reflects their concerns.

In a world perceived as increasingly uncertain, the growth in numbers who consider protection a pre-requisite reveals how opinions have hardened in recent years.

When we asked the same question in the summer of 2014, 68% then rated Atol protection a priority. So this winter’s result is a positive step forward.

It suggests consumers are more aware they need to act responsibly and ensure they cover themselves, especially if they are booking months in advance of travel when any number of things might happen to their tour operator before they depart.

Unfortunately, it does not paint the full picture. While some people are aware of what Atol protection is and what it covers, there are many who are less well-informed. Just look at those who have come to grief in the recent past, losing both their money and their holiday, when non-Atol affiliated companies failed.

And, while protection is undoubtedly a big concern to Holiday Confidence Index respondents, those same consumers voted by a ratio of 2:1 in favour of booking their own trips abroad independently rather than choosing a package holiday.

Of course, it depends what ‘independently-booked’ means. With the safeguards now in place it may be the way they book their holiday is ring-fenced with protection.

But there remains a risk that while people think they are protected, they book components in such a way as to mean they are not.

City breaks are particularly vulnerable and are now the most-popular type of holiday, according to research by Abta.

A spontaneous, last-minute booking for a weekend trip away often involves buying a flight direct with an airline that is not Atol-protected and matching it with accommodation booked on a hotel’s website. In neither case would holidaymakers get their money back in the event of a problem.

The challenge for agents and operators is to continue to raise awareness and to educate holidaymakers so they can make informed decisions and get the protection they want. There is a great opportunity here for the travel industry to provide the reassurance holidaymakers are looking for and, in doing so, to make itself indispensable in this uncertain age.

The good news is that Britons remain stubbornly attached to the idea of holidaying abroad. Over half of those we questioned plan to travel in the coming year and 45% have already booked their first trip away.

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