Agents unprepared for PTD could be hit with costly insurance liability due to a lack of time to prepare for the changes.
It follows the government’s delay issuing final drafts of the new regulations.
Simon Bunce, Abta’s director of legal services, this week told TTG while larger high street and online agents would be ready, there was still concern over smaller firms.
“There is still a job to do,” he said, adding that until Abta sees the final wording of the new legislation, it could not advise on matters such as changes to booking terms and conditions.
With just three months until PTD is implemented on July 1, the industry is still yet to see final drafts of the Department for Transport (DfT) and CAA’s proposed changes to Atol’s standard terms and regulations or the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) new Package Travel Regulations (PTR).
Abta says it expects final details of changes to the Atol scheme and the PTR “by mid-May”.
On Friday (March 23), Abta issued its own response to the DfT and CAA’s latest consultation exercise, stating the immediate priority must be implementing PTD, with any additional changes – however laudable – deferred for further consultation.
Bunce said agents should be especially aware of changes to the definition of “packages” and “organisers”.
“Currently, an organiser is a person who sells a package,” he said. “Under the new definition, an organiser is someone who combines and sells a package.
"So a lot of the dynamic sales travel agents do – particularly flight-plus – will become packages and these agents will become organisers.
“It’s a different business model. They will be responsible for the performance of all services and financial protection if those services can’t be provided – or fail. That’s a big shift.
“Agents will absolutely need to look at their liability insurance; they won’t have the same sort of liability insurance they will need as a package organiser.”
The upheaval has been compared to that of changes to flight-plus bookings, which were brought under Atol regulations in 2012 as “licensable bookings”.
Alan Bowen, legal adviser for the Association of Atol Companies, explained how some agents are currently selling flight-plus as two contracts to circumvent personal injury liability under Atol.
“Such sales from July 1, however, will become packages, so agents will now be responsible – but many haven’t started taking action,” he said.
“Our members all have liability insurance. If agents already have it, it’s not too expensive to extend it. But if an agent has never had it, the insurers will naturally want a lot of detail. This could be a problem before July 1.”
Bowen also echoed Abta’s concerns over the proposed timeframe for PTD: “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s the end of March and we haven’t seen the regulations. We don’t know where we’re going yet we will be expected to comply by July 1. It’s just not going to happen.”
Gary Lewis, Travel Network Group chief executive, added he was confident the group’s members would be ready for July 1.
“Our members have package travel cover and are paying relevant premiums,” he said. “Yes, there is more risk which has increased costs and premiums but we’ve been through this with flight-plus.”
Meanwhile, the government has admitted the travel industry will have just a few weeks to make the necessary changes to be compliant with the PTD.
The new PTD was published in December 2015 and EU member states were nominally given until January 2018 to transpose it into national law.
Three bodies were tasked with implementing the new EU directive in the UK – the DfT, BEIS and the CAA.
However, despite three separate consultations (October 2016, August 2017 and February 2018) on changes to the Atol scheme and updating the PTR, the industry is yet to be presented final drafts.
TTG approached all three departments for an update.
A DfT spokesperson said: “We consulted on the proposals in 2016 and have published detailed draft regulations as part of the most recent consultation. We continue to work closely with the industry to ensure they are prepared ahead of the regulations coming into force on July 1.”
The department added it would publish its response to its latest Atol consultation “in the coming months”, stressing it understood the changes would take time to implement and pledged to “work closely with the industry on implementation”.
A CAA spokesperson said: “We have previously said there will be transitional arrangements put in place for the transfer to the new process and that remains the case.”
A BEIS spokesperson added: “The government has consulted extensively with the travel industry on this issue and will continue to work closely with them to ensure they are prepared ahead of the regulations coming into force later this year.”
The BEIS said it would publish its response to its latest consultation “shortly” and hoped to “lay regulations” after Easter.