Atol renewal figure is ‘sign of a very healthy industry’

The number of Atol holders has risen for a second year in a row following the March renewals, confirming the healthy state of the package travel sector.

The total of 1,630 licence holders is up from 1,619 a year ago when the March renewals marked a break from years of decline in Atol numbers by remaining on a par with the 1,618 licensed in March 2022.

Association of Atol Companies (AAC) legal advisor Alan Bowen described the figures as “remarkable” given CAA head of Atol Michael Budge had to appeal for licence applications last month, telling Travel Weekly (March 7): “We have about 660 renewals in March and 50% are yet to apply.”

There has also been a further increase in licensed passenger numbers among the largest Atol holders. The top 10 are now licensed for more than 25.85 million packages, up almost 1.5 million on last October, and the top 20 for almost 27.25 million. We Love Holidays added 1,337,658, On the Beach 147,776, Virgin Holidays 85,761 and Travel Counsellors 12,074.

Atol holders must renew their licences annually in March or September. The CAA reported 668 licenses up for renewal in March, of which it renewed 615 – up from 604 in 2023 – with 20 still pending. Only 33 holders did not apply to renew – the lowest for some time.

Bowen hailed the total as “a sign that the industry is very healthy” and noted: “The list of those not renewed was the shortest for a long time. Bearing in mind the CAA said half hadn’t put in applications four weeks ago, it’s quite remarkable. The system is working well.

“There are profits to be made and companies are comfortable to look at larger licences.”

However, Bowen suggested companies increasing their Atols significantly may be “optimistic”.

Only four of the top 10 Atol holders are Abta members, representing 59% of top 10 capacity, and nine of the top 20.

Bowen suggested this is of “some significance”, noting: “It’s the 30th anniversary of the AAC this month and 30 years ago every AAC member was an Abta member. Now 30% are.”

He insisted “Abta does a lot of good things”, but said: “Increasingly, people say they’re not convinced Abta membership is worth the money.”

Bowen added: “It’s also a sign of an increasing move toward direct sales. If you’re selling direct, you don’t really need Abta membership.”

However, Abta director of membership and financial protection Rachel Jordan said: “Membership numbers are remarkably resilient. We still represent the larger part of a consolidating industry [and] we regularly have new businesses joining.”

She added: “Our latest independent research shows 89% of people say they’re more likely to book with an Abta member than a company that is not [a member], and 47% willing to pay more for a holiday booked with an Abta member than a non-member. It’s also worth remembering our members sell all sorts of holidays – not just flight-based packages.”

More‘Renewed momentum’ to Atol Reform but no news on ‘when’

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