The government will finally publish its long-awaited new Package Travel Regulations (PTR) this month - giving the industry just two months to react before they are implemented in July.
Details of proposed changes to the Atol scheme, part of the government’s efforts to enact the EU’s new Package Travel Directive on July 1, were issued earlier this year following further consultation with the industry.
However, it will be the first time agents and other stakeholders have seen the government’s plans for the PTR, which, among other things, defines what is and it not considered a travel “package”.
Adequately defining a package and also a package “organiser” is vital to agents and other travel operators as it determines who is responsible for providing protection for customers if something goes wrong during their holiday.
The government says the new PTR will protect an extra 10 million UK package holidays. Abta has welcomed the announcement, but stressed until the PTR is published, the announcement only sets out the government’s “expected approach”.
Implementation of PTD been split across three government bodies; the Department for Transport (DfT) and CAA, which have been looking after changes to the Atol scheme, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which has been drafting the new PTR.
There has been widespread criticism of the process from the industry, with groups such as Abta, Aito and the Association of Atol Companies variously stating the proposed changes are too wide-ranging to adopt in such a short space of time.
All EU member states were provided details of the PTD in December 2015 and were given until January 2018 to transpose them into national law. The UK government missed this deadline.
Abta has previously called for any changes to any of the forthcoming new regulations that go beyond what is required by the PTD to be deferred for further consultation and for all three bodies to focus primarily on implementation.
When approached, a spokesperson for BEIS confirmed to TTG it would publish the PTR this month, likely after Parliament reconvenes on April 16 following its Easter recess.
The department said the new regulations would ensure online retailers are responsible for the same level of consumer protection traditional travel agents supply (under Atol) and that customers rights to request refunds would become clearer.
It added measures presented in a new green paper, “Modernising Consumer Markets”, would more stringently hold companies who fail customers to account.
Citing Abta, BEIS said the boom in online bookings had created a gap in consumer protection, with around 50% of holidays not currently financially protected in the event of a company folding.
Abta confirmed around half of all UK holiday travel arrangements - 20 million packages and 3 million so-called flight-plus holidays - are currently protected under Atol.
After becoming protected under Atol in 2012, flight-plus arrangements will be redefined as packages.
The net result is an increase in financial and legal protection, but Abta said the announcement was not yet the full picture.
Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “We are still waiting for the government to publish the regulations. Today’s announcement sets out the government’s expected approach which will result in more holiday travel arrangements being classified as packages meaning greater protection for these types of holiday.
“We still need the detail of the final regulations and Abta will be working hard to make sure members understand what the final regulations mean for their businesses and the steps they need to take.”
Tanzer reiterated under the existing regulations, packages and flight-plus holidays are protected.
However, from July 1, when flight-plus arrangements become packages, the overall number of protected holidays may not increase, but the level of protection for consumers will.
“Once published, the timescale is very tight for UK businesses to understand these regulations and to make necessary changes,” Tanzer added.
Abta has said it will issue updated guidance for members via its PTD hub.