The summer break for parliament is known to trigger a “silly season” in the media during which the dearth of real news frees space for a flakier, more dubious variety.
Unhappily, a recent example was the mass hysteria following the failure of Goldtrail and then Kiss. One front page headline splash in the Sunday papers ran “20 more holiday companies to fail”. Obviously accurate, as no time limit was given for this miserable prophecy.
Given the hype in the trade press it is hard be overly critical of the mainstream media for picking up on this and seeking to fuel it yet further. We, as a nation, have a ferocious appetite for news and there simply is not enough of it to sate our thirst.
No problem – pad out the papers with a substitute product: “made up news”. Moreover, it is cheaper to produce. There are no tricky facts to investigate. Just find someone keen to spout some fertile froth for a moment of fame, and bingo, your copy is ready to print.
The interests of commercial market participants and the trade media diverge here. For the latter, a storm of anxiety in which the consumer takes flight instead of buying flights and airlines fall from the sky is fantastic – what a story!
For the frontline businesses, depending upon consumers trusting the industry as a whole to function, it is a nightmare scenario.
Recent commentators blame TUI and Thomas Cook, suspecting they are actively encouraging the fear factor. This makes little sense. XL was a recent reminder that big companies are no safer than small companies – they just make a much bigger bang when they hit the deck.
Outside of the industry, the return of Asil Nadir resurrects the Polly Peck story, which makes the same point just as well.
I am also bemused by attempts to muddle up the consumer protection debate yet further. Kiss and Goldtrail underline the benefit of ATOL protection on all flights, which is currently not required under the existing or proposed legislation.
Airlines are exempt and ATOL protection is in effect optional for groups including an airline. TUI has already announced it is ducking out and I can only guess Thomas Cook will follow.
Whilst entirely legal, this will increase confusion for customers who assume businesses with an ATOL offer ATOL protection all of the time rather than “maybe, maybe not, seek Counsel’s opinion”.
Attempting to resolve the consumer protection debate whilst ignoring increasingly popular “flight only” sales is blatantly crackers and will not spare the industry from more uncomfortable news footage of stranded Brits with no right to repatriation.
Bad news sells, good news is no news at all. Inevitably, the travel sector will get the spotlight when it wants it least. “Lots of travel companies doing really quite well” or “Thousands of Brits fly home happy” lacks the necessary journalistic venom. C’est la vie!