The latest round of Atol renewals has turned out some real growth stories. Rob Gill reports.
The rise of online travel agencies was one of the major trends seen in the latest round of Atol renewals. This was headlined by the growth of Loveholidays, which has increased the size of its Atol by 53% for the next 12 months – taking it above the one million passenger mark for the first time.
The private equity-owned company has boosted its licence from 804,600 passengers for 2018/19 to 1.23 million passengers from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.
The expansion takes the OTA up to fifth place in the list of the top Atol holders – behind Tui UK, Jet2holidays, Thomas Cook and On the Beach.
The top three tour operators renew their Atols at the end of September and, out of the leading 10 Atol holders, only Loveholidays and On the Beach were among those to renew their licences at the end of March.
Loveholidays was set up by Alex Francis and Jonny Marsh in 2012 and was purchased in May 2018 by private equity group Livingbridge, which had previously invested in fellow OTA On the Beach.
Christian Armond, marketing director from Loveholidays, said: “This increase reflects the continued success of our business in the UK with more and more customers booking their holiday with Loveholidays.
“This growth is driven by a combination of intuitive market-leading technology, our competitive pricing that offers the best deals and our team who continue to drive the business forward even in this current economic and political climate [with Brexit looming].”
Loveholidays was previously ranked seventh in the list of top Atol holders, but its expanded licence has now taken it above Expedia and British Airways Holidays, who both renew in September.
Alan Bowen, legal advisor of the Association of Atol Companies, said: “Loveholidays has been hugely successful – it was set up by people who knew nothing about travel but were great tech people.
“Now they are owned by private equity, they believe the way forward is sheer numbers, and maybe that’s right. It’s about volume.”
On the Beach has also increased its Atol to 1.65 million as revealed by TTG last week, as part of its move to become an Accredited Body. The enlarged Atol also now covers package sales made by its Sunshine.co.uk subsidiary.
Simon Brodie, director at the Travel Trade Consultancy (TTC), said there had been a shift towards fast-growing OTAs selling packages, often at the expense of traditional tour operators.
“OTAs are growing and clearly those owned by private equity houses have ambitious growth plans,” he told TTG. “But it could be traditional operators are following a strategy of going after profit rather than volume.”
One operator to drop out of the top 20 Atol holders is Olympic Holidays, which falls from 18th to 37th place following a reduction from 219,900 to 75,600 in its licensable passenger numbers.
Homeworking firm Travel Counsellors enters the list of the top 50 Atol holders in 29th place with its licence for up to 101,900 passengers over the next year. While Virgin Holidays has trimmed its Atol by 2.7% to 377,700 passengers.
Hays Travel’s tour operating division climbed from 28th to 21st place with an expanded Atol for up to 150,000 passengers – up from 122,400 passengers during the previous year.
This round of Atol renewals represented the final set of companies to use the CAA’s new online renewal system for the first time. Despite the CAA urging Atol holders to apply early when using this system, there were still 120 firms that did not make their applications until the last week in March.
The CAA said it would be launching a survey this month to gather more feedback on the online system.
TTC’s Brodie said while the online system had seen “some improvements” for this round of renewals, there were still “teething problems”.
“It has come a long way but there’s still work to be done,” he added. “We hope the system will be a whole lot better when we come to the next renewals.”