Travel firms face two crunch dates in the next two months with failures “likely”, leading industry accountant Chris Photi has warned.
Photi, head of travel and leisure at White Hart Associates, highlighted the expiry of the first wave of refund credit notes on July 31 and the Atol-licence and Abta-bond renewal date of September 30 as key moments in a crisis in which “the problems have come in waves”.
Speaking on a Travlaw industry webinar, Photi said: “In March and April, the big issue was cash retention [when] we saw a kneejerk reaction from merchant acquirers – that has settled a little but is ongoing – [and] a kneejerk reaction from travel insurance providers.
“In May, we saw travel businesses in urgent need of cash seeking loans. That got off to a slow start – banks didn’t have their processes ready – but it has kind of settled down and banks are settling [applications] pretty quickly.”
Since then, he noted “mounting failures of long-established businesses” such as Funway Holidays and Fleetway Travel and said: “They are not likely to be the only failures. The July 31 refund credit note deadline could result in more.”
Looking forward to the September 30 renewal date for Atols and Abta bonds, Photi warned: “Bonding is going to be a hugely difficult area for businesses.
“If you are renewing bonds at existing or lower levels you should have no difficulty. But if you are trying to reposition bonds from a provider which has left the market you are going to find it very difficult.”
He suggested: “The CAA’s resources are stretched and it is outsourcing legal work to City law firms with mixed experience. Some of the questions raised by them have been laughable.”
However, Photi praised Abta for its “immense role” in winning acceptance of refund credit notes.
The government confirmed Atol protection of refund credit notes at the weekend and Photi said: “Abta really came to the fore as a trade association. It played an immense role on refund credit notes and deserves an immense amount of credit.
“Unfortunately, the government did not see it the same way and the consumer still has a choice of a cash refund or a refund credit note.”
The CAA also issued guidance on refund credit notes at the weekend.
Photi said: “Goodness knows why the CAA took so long. The Air Travel Trust payment policy is quite clear that refund credit notes are protected.”
He noted a “disappointing aspect” of the CAA guidance, pointing out: “If a customer who has a cancelled booking rebooks, they get a revised booking with no additional Atol Protection Contribution (APC).
“But give them a refund credit note and when they use that to rebook, the £2.50 APC has to be paid again.”