Agent Diary: The dilemma of using a tour operator or our own T-Atol

Is it better to turn bookings away and maintain a minimum margin or get something rather than nothing at all, asks Mark Swords, co-director of Swords Travel in Wimbledon

This year is the first year that we have opted to have our own T-Atol as a business.

The reason for doing this is to prevent loss of sales where tour operators are simply unable to match the prices of online giants.

We are finding more and more that even our luxury clients want to ensure we are as competitive on price as the likes of

The T-Atol [a franchise Atol exclusively available to Travel Trust Association members] is a great option for smaller agents who need the flexibility to book packages under their own brand, at a much more affordable cost.


However, as good as it is to be able to sell under our own Atol, there is still always the dilemma of whether to use a tour operator or use our Atol. On one side you have increased margin and more control; on the flip side, that increased margin comes with risk.

Our first point of call is always to use a tour operator, knowing we have their support and back up should anything go wrong. This also saves us time to focus on what we do best: selling holidays and developing our business for new clients.

Having said that, there are times when even the tour operator can’t match prices due to margins being so low and some online entities pretty much giving flights away.

It’s really frustrating as we want to support our tour operators, and for us both to make a reasonable margin and show the client the value of being with a tour operator.

It is in this scenario that we lose the booking unless we use a bed bank or direct contract to secure the booking under our own Atol.

But even in this scenario, we’re still likely to be working for absolute minimum returns.

More and more recently it’s made me think, is it worth it? Are we better just turning the booking away and maintaining a minimum margin on each booking?

The downside is that you’ve already spent time working to get the booking, and surely it’s better to get something rather than nothing at all?


The other challenge we are now facing is the drop in the pound. It’s highly likely we are about to face a big economic downturn with Brexit and this will impact profits if the euro-dollar rate continues to drop.

Who knows what will happen but it will be interesting to see how travel agents evolve in the future and whether using their own Atol will start to become a more day-to-day practice to remain competitive.

One thing I do know is that when there is an issue with an airline, such as a drone scenario, the benefits of having booked with a tour operator make our lives as agents an awful lot easier.

I personally like having the flexibility of being able to use our own Atol. But I do sometimes worry whether the risk is worth the return.


Crazy or not, Club Med has a real edge

I’ve just returned from a great fam trip with Club Med in Mauritius. This was the third time I’ve been to Club Med and it still amazes me how much people love the resort operator’s dance Crazy Signs. Not been to Club Med? Crazy Signs is to the French what Whigfield’s Saturday Night is to the Brits.

In addition to Crazy Signs, I love that Club Med has a dress theme each night. This makes life so easy, and also fun. A highlight has to be ‘45 Night’. Everyone wears T-shirts with 45 on (random, I know!) but it’s become a Club Med must-do.

I now have three 45 T-shirts. If you’ve not done a Club Med trip as an agent, you’re missing out. There’s cracking food, great people and an experience that really gives Club Med the edge when it comes to all-inclusives.

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