On the Beach reaps benefits of Atol licence

Online retailer On the Beach has claimed it is already seeing the benefit of investing in its own Atol licence.

The Manchester-based retailer is offering full financial protection through a trust-based system endorsed by industry regulator the CAA and trade association Abta.

The scheme will protect everything the firm sells to its 300,000 annual customers and sets it apart from rivals, some of which have Atol cover but not on their full range of products.

It also future-proofs On the Beach ahead of new flight-plus Atol rules due to come in force next year. Under the reformed system, agents that dynamically package will have to offer protection.

Cooper said: “Those [customers] who have been visiting the site and never booked are now booking.”

Cooper would not reveal numbers, arguing: “We change things all the time and conversion fluctuates week to week and month to month.

“But we knew we would see a higher conversion rate. We would not have spent so much time on this and not have gone ahead without a strong business case.”

Cooper described the decision to obtain an Atol a step out of “the hinterland” of travel.

On The Beach, although one of the biggest independent OTAs in the UK has enjoyed a lower profile than rival Travel Republic which had a well publicised spat and legal case over Atol with the CAA.

“It has been difficult for those operating in our space. We need an Atol to do what we do. We have been in the hinterland.

“We made the decision [to do it] when we found a way [to protect] money from the moment it leaves a customer’s bank account until they take their holiday. We had enormous help from the CAA.”

Cooper said: “Every time we see a failure it drives customers to brands they have seen on the high street for 25 years.

“You only have to look at who has fallen out of the market in the past three years – Goldtrail, Kosmar, XL, Holidays 4U – companies carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers between them. The failures have driven customers to Thomson, Cook and the Co-op.”

Although flight-plus has been designed to catch agents that have been able to avoid Atol many are expected to continue getting round its requirements by acting as agent for the consumer.

Cooper dismissed this as “exploiting a loophole”. “We didn’t consider it,” he said. “We were trying to achieve certainty for consumers.

“Agent for the consumer is essentially exploiting a loophole. It is dodging the inevitable and it is not a long-term solution. We’ve broken new ground. We believe we have achieved the best of all worlds.

“Some of our rivals have an Atol for a proportion of their business and show the Atol on their site.

“We’ve stepped out of the hinterland. We spent too long in it. We have achieved something that has unshackled us.”

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