The pan-European association of online travel agents (OTAs) and global distribution systems (GDSs) has expressed alarm at the UK government’s Atol reform plans, warning the proposals could send more consumers to book unprotected holidays with airlines.
The European Technology and Travel Services Association (Ettsa) has written to transport secretary Philip Hammond to register “strong concerns” about the changes.
Ettsa says it is “particularly concerned” about the two-day window in which consumers could create Flight-Plus arrangements and “alarmed” by the imminent start date of January 1.
The association wrote to Hammond last week, saying: “We have not seen any consumer-based evidence to support the theory that these proposals are what consumers look for or need.”
Ettsa suggests a two-day booking window will impose “a significant and disproportionate cost (to the tune of millions of pounds)” on the OTA sector, due to “the immense technical complexities attached to tracking millions of transactions” in case a flight-plus deal may be created. “The platforms currently in use were never designed for such a challenge.”
It argues the resulting complexity will drive customers to book with businesses that do not have to comply – primarily the scheduled carriers. The association says the cost of compliance will further distort the market in the airlines’ favour, since “as little as €1 can be enough to sway consumers’ decisions” on price.
Ettsa warns: “These proposals will increase confusion for consumers, place an unwarranted and disproportionate burden on the OTAs and distort the market in favour of direct distribution for airlines.”
It suggests the Department for Transport’s proposals “demonstrate a lack of understanding of the modern marketplace”.
The association adds: “We do not believe OTAs and the impact on their businesses have been properly considered.”
The association responded to the Atol reform consultation which ended in mid-September, but says it has been alarmed by the response. The DfT is expected to announce the final shape of the reforms this month.