Flight Plus ‘will make life harder’ for agents

The government’s Atol reform will make life “much harder for some agents”, a leading advisor to the trade has warned.

Alan Bowen, managing partner of AGB Associates and former Abta head of legal affairs, warned the requirement for agency agreements between retailers and tour operators could change the way many companies do business.

He said: “It may mean there will be fewer agents in future. It may mean some tour operators are not prepared to sign agreements and have to sell solely direct to consumers. Life is going to become much harder for some agents.”

Bowen described the timetable for reform as “precarious”. He told a travel and tourism law conference in London on Wednesday: “The Department for Transport is determined to have this happen by January 1. I’m not sure it will.”

He pointed out: “It is not yet agreed what should be in [the new] Atol Certificate [to be issued to customers] and it is only four and a half months away.”

IATA agents may have a problem with the proposed “right to fly documents”, Bowen added, since these require an agreement with individual airlines that most small retailers will not have.

Referring to an Air Travel Trust proposal to pay part of the cost to a Flight-Plus agent of refunding customers in the event of a supplier’s failure, Bowen said: “I would not bank on a contribution. The danger is [a failure] could be entirely your responsibility.”

He said: “The reforms potentially create a new set of problems. “Whether they will bring clarity is another matter. They need not mean the end of real agents and they may reign in those pretending to be tour operators until everything goes wrong.”

But he added: “I’m not sure the industry will agree to all of it . . . There are a worrying number of exemptions.”

The reforms are currently subject to a consultation with the industry. Bowen noted there were only 40 responses to an earlier consultation on the principle of reform and said: “It is very worrying that so few people responded to the earlier consultation and so few responses were from those who are affected by Atol. That is a problem.”

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