A leading travel agent has called for a clause to be added into the Atol scheme which would insist all licence holders collect customer payments no earlier than four weeks from departure to stop them running their businesses on client money.
Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman said: “The industry collects money too early and so is sitting on massive amounts of customers’ money which is not right.
“Cooks are now collecting 12 weeks in advance. Companies should go to the banks and fund their businesses properly and not from customers’ money.
“If you’re going to have an Atol licence, there should be a rule that says you can’t collect customer money more than four weeks before departure. People are so used to living off their customers – it must be stopped.”
Speakman was addressing delegates at WTM in a session where he also warned that the travel industry was in real danger of being viewed as a “set of charlatans” by both consumers and the government if it doesn’t improve its reputation.
He said: “Years ago, the way you did business when someone went bust, was that you looked after people’s customers abroad and those with forward bookings.
“But now when it happens the prices just shoot up. Nobody really looks after customers – this industry has a complete lack of integrity.”
In the same session, On the Beach marketing director Alistair Daly said his company had covered everything it sells with an Atol licence in response to demand from customers who wanted to know they were protected in the event of a failure or incident.
Daly said: “Our customers told us they wanted 100% protection and it was very interesting that when we surveyed them two or three years ago, they said the Abta badge was more important.
“But when we polled them six months ago, after a number of high profile failures, it was Atol they said was the brand offering financial protection, and it has reached the same level of awareness as Abta.”
But he said he was very worried that many agents would get around the new Flight-Plus Atol regulations, due to come ito force next April, by claiming they are acting as the agent for the consumer.
“If an agent goes down that route, we’re back to square one and it’s got to be stopped,” he claimed.
All Leisure chairman Roger Allard said: “I think that loophole has to be closed up and I believe it will be by April.”