Tour operators

Government bill to bring regulation for online holiday sales in line with offline supported by MPs

Posted by Ben Irelandon
Government bill to bring regulation for online holiday sales in line with offline supported by MPs

MPs have broadly welcomed a move to bring the protection of DIY holidays in to line with those booked via travel agents.

The Atol Bill was the first bill to be debated under the new parliament, and is designed to help regulation keep pace with the changes in technology used to sell an increasing amount of holidays.

Holidays will be covered from next year by a protection scheme when people book flights and hotels separately.

At the bill’s second reading in parliament on Monday, John Hayes, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, said: “The growth of the internet and mobile phone technologies have revolutionised the way people book holidays, creating greater opportunities for consumers and businesses.

“This concept is designed to provide some protection to business models which are not packages, but which often compete closely with packages.”

Iain Stewart, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South, said the travel industry needed urgent action to allow for sales plans, which he said are typically 12 to 18 months in advance.

Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, added: “A wider range of operators, including more dynamic package providers, will likely be covered under the changes, bringing protection to many more UK holidaymakers not covered under existing Atol provisions.

“The requirement for travel companies to be in line with standards at “place of establishment” instead of “place of sale” will now mean that UK companies can sell far more seamlessly across Europe by simply adhering to the widely-respected Atol flag.”

And Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth and a former employee of both Abta and Thomas Cook, said: “Travel is a complex fast-paced industry full of fantastic people. These technical updates need to be fully understood and implemented over time for many different booking systems, both in UK companies and those that operate internationally. That is why the draft regulations cannot come a moment too soon. The Bill will help to clear up confusion about which holidays are protected and which are not.”

Pollard went on to call for more information on how linked travel arrangements are treated under the bill, fearing they may fall outside of the protection’s scope – and asked whether protection started from the point of sale or the point of departure.

“That could result in real confusion for consumers,” he said.

The Atol scheme has been in place since 1973, and was last amended in 2012. It protects holidaymakers in the event of a travel company going bust, and currently has a £140 million pot of cash to use to make sure customers get home safely in the event of a collapse, funded by a £2.50 contribution from Atol-registered companies for each protected passenger. The government says the scheme protects 20 million people a year.

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