CAA rebuts criticism over Atol publicity campaign

The Civil Aviation Authority has hit back at criticism of its decision to delay an Atol-awareness campaign among consumers, pointing out the plans have been drawn up in consultation with the trade.

The government plans a series of reforms to consumer-protection regulations for holidaymakers, expanding the regime beyond traditional packages to include holidays put together by high-street and online retailers.

The CAA has promised to publicise the new regime, but indicated it would delay going out to consumers until late next year – a decision that led to a report accusing the CAA of “leaving consumers confused about Atol”.

However, the CAA said it was committed to producing publicity “only when the trade is ready, in line with the trade’s steer”.

A CAA spokesman told Travel Weekly: “Communication with the public to explain the benefits of the Atol scheme and the changes that are happening is going to be a vital part of the drive to make reform work.

“We have been in close contact with the trade about this and the very strong steer has been that agents need to fully understand the changes and be able to deal with public queries about them when we start to do wider publicity.

“Reform will only become real to consumers when the trade are operating fully under the new system. Promotion to consumers in advance of that is likely to be wasted.”

He added: “One of the most important channels for public understanding of Atol reform will come from agents themselves, not the CAA.

“Agents have far better day-to-day links with consumers [than the CAA]. In selling holidays and giving out Atol certificates with accurate explanations of the protection provided, they will play a huge role in helping people understand the scheme.”

The CAA intends to launch a campaign to help educate agents in the New Year, ahead of the planned launch of the reformed Atol scheme, including the new Flight Plus Atol, in April. A consumer campaign will come later in 2012 when it’s believed the trade will be up-to-speed with the changes and agents ready to deal with holidaymakers’ questions.

The Department for Transport is due to announce the final shape of the reforms in the next two weeks. The CAA will launch a consultation on the detail of implementation in January.

Abta chairman and Advantage chief executive John McEwan said: ‘The CAA should go on with an awareness campaign once the new regulations are in place and they are satisfied compliance is taking place with Flight Plus.’ Travel Weekly understands this is what the CAA intends.

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