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Is ABTA still relevant today?

By on September 16, 2017

Recently, a number of tour operators and travel firms, have decided to give up their memberships for the trades association, The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). Theyclaim that the association is no longer relevant to their business.


In the latest update, 15 firms, have decided not to renew their memberships which begs to question, is the association still relevant today with ATOL protection and other forms of consumer protection?


Tour Operator Mark Warner has given up its ABTA membership, saying the association is no longer relevant to its business. Many other firms have followed the same course.


What is ABTA?


In 1950, The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), was founded by 22 leading travel companies and has been running as the travel industries trade body ever since. ABTA, has a code of conduct ensuring its members “…maintain high standards and it allows you to travel with confidence”. Most of the requirements contained within the code, are covered under UK and European law.


If you buy a land- or sea-based holiday from an ABTA Member, your monies will be protected by the ‘ABTA scheme of financial protection’. If your travel company fails and your holiday can no longer go ahead, you will be entitled to a refund and hotel costs and transport home if you are abroad. However, those who purchase ‘single services’ such as accommodation only will not automatically be protected under the scheme with many opting out of protecting consumers.


However, if people pay for their coach, rail or cruise holiday using a credit card, it will be covered under The Consumer Credit Act (Section 75 claims); a consumer protection package and some will be protected through the Visa’s voluntary policy when using their debit cards.


In a publication by the ONS in the annual report which provides estimates and profiles of travel and tourism visits. In their report published in May 2017 “there were 70.8 million visits overseas by UK residents in 2016, which was 8% more than in 2015.”


In that report, 45.02 millionof Britswho travelled overseas was for the purpose of holidaying, the preferred mode of travel of brits going overseas was by flight accounting for over 59.58 million.



Air 84.14


Train (Channel Tunnel) 6.42



The above table shows the percentage of UK Travellers overseas in 2016 by mode of transport


What is ATOL?


Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) is a Civil Aviation Authority scheme, giving financial protection to people who have purchased package holidays and flights from a member tour operator currently signed up to the scheme. The majority of UK tour operators are required to hold an ATOL licence.


This consumer protection has two parts; to pays for refunds of flights and accommodation (and any other part of a package holiday), if the tour operator is unable to meet their contractual obligations to travellers.  It also arranges flights or accommodation to those already overseas. Government funding covers any shortfall to consumers which may arise.


Therefore, ATOL-protected flights from the UK, would be covered under the ATOL protection scheme and the Air Travel Trust pays the excess which is not covered by ATOL. These 59.58 million tourists would have little recourse from the current ABTA scheme.


In 2006, the Office of Fair Trade withdrew its approval for the ABTA code of conduct. This was due to a restructuring of its code of conduct by withdrawing its compensation paid to people who have lost money to a dishonest travel agent.


“We are disappointed that ABTA has taken the decision to change its code and withdraw from the scheme,” said Colin Brown of the OFT.


This now raises the question on what benefit does ABTA offer to consumers that isn’t already in operation?


Alan Hoey, managing Director at Holiday Sickness Claims raises the question about the independence of those in charge of ABTA, many of which have further interests in their own Travel Companies and Tour Operator companies. Can they really be independent?

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