You may well be aware of the terms ATOL and ABTA when booking a holiday given that a lot of literature and holiday advice online suggests that if you are booking a holiday package, that you look for these two terms. ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) and ATOL (Air Travel Organisers Licensing) are organizations designed to protect you as the consumer. Travel companies in the EU when setting up, if they wish to display and promote ABTA affiliation, need to pay a bond and this bond tends to be a significant amount of money and this bond is the money that goes to help holiday makers if they are stuck abroad when a holiday company goes out of business. The tour operator will lose their bond and ABTA normally pay the costs to aid travellers. As a person booking a trip abroad, booking with an ABTA affiliated company makes sense because this protection if you are stuck abroad, acts almost like an extra level of travel insurance for you.
The problem many people have is that they think they are booking a package holiday with some companies online (I cannot mention any names) but the individual aspects of the trip such as flight and hotel and actually being booked online together but it is not an actual package. Companies such as Thomas Cook and Thomson’s do tend to offer ABTA affiliated supported holidays. The trick is to check the site for the ABTA and ATOL symbols.
The big thing in terms of the Package Travel Directive is that online marketing has drastically changed the way we think and the way we book holidays. The idea of searching online on a price comparison site for a flight and then searching on a holiday rentals website for a villa. Then you might book holiday insurance on yet another site and the tours you do within a city might be booked on yet one more site, i.e. on Viatour. This way or organising a holiday is becoming more common and it in effect means that a great er percentage of people are travelling abroad without a form of collective cover, which protects you against any of the elements failing. The villa rentals company, the flight, the insurance company, the tour company: Any one them could go out of business and you will not be covered with the Package Directive. You very possibly might have some form of protection according to the type of travel insurance you have but you will not have ABTA cover.
With small service providers now combining as small entities to offer individual pieces of the holiday package, the problem is also that these small companies can often not afford the bond to then be able to market themselves as Package protected. What seems to be needed is a new system which would enable small regional and local based travel companies to be covered individually. This seems to be a flaw in what to to me seems an outdated policy. Everyone perhaps would seem to benefit with an updated directive from Europe which dates back to 1990.
There has been a lot of talk in travel circles and from within the EU that the directive will be updated soon and be more wide ranging in the way in which it protects us when we book our own flights, accommodation and ancillary services. This will reflect the modern day habits of holiday makers and I think will be a welcome change for most of us. Overall it can be very confusing to know what you are protected for by airlines, what your operators are liable for and even sometimes, exactly what your own holiday insurance covers or does not cover. Add onto this the EHIC (if you are European) and then acts of nature and it is really quite a mix! Any new policy which in making any of these things easier has to be a good day for us as consumers when the policy is updated.