A number of bodies exist to promote the consumer's interest. These bodies are either trade associations or government organisations which have a duty to the travelling public. If things go wrong on holiday and the consumer has not been able to resolve the matter with the individual holiday company, these consumer bodies can be approached to try and resolve the matter. The very fact that a holiday company is a member of a particular organisation does mean that the company has met some standard of service which the consumer can rely upon.
Since holidaymakers invariably have to rely on the representations of the tour operators and carriers, and have to pay for the full cost of the service some time before it is delivered, it is not surprising that a number of organisations exist to protect their interests.
ATOL is a financial protection scheme managed by the Civil Aviation Authority ("CAA"). All companies selling holiday air packages and air flights in the UK must hold an Air Travel Organisers' Licence (somewhat confusingly, also commonly referred to as an 'ATOL').
In the event of an ATOL holder's failure, the ATOL Scheme ensures customers who booked and contracted with the ATOL holder for an air holiday package or a flight, do not lose the money paid over or are not stranded abroad.
ATOL is the only UK scheme that protects the vast majority of flights and air holidays. If a holiday is booked through an ATOL holder, you are protected from losing your money or from being left stranded abroad if a travel firm goes out of business, either before you travel or while you are on holiday. If you book through an air travel agent and you receive your ticket confirmation immediately after paying your deposit or the full fee, usually you won't be covered. You should always ask for an ATOL confirmation certificate so that you'll be protected, regardless of whether the ticket has been issued or not. It will also establish whether the tour operator or air travel firm has a licence under the ATOL scheme.
ATOL will not protect a consumer who books directly with an airline, nor will it do so if the ticket is booked abroad. ATOL cannot intervene in issues about the quality of holidays or flights. You should always check the ATOL number of the tour operator you are booking with.
ATOL's contact details are:
Civil Aviation Authority
London. WC2B 6TE.
Telephone: 020 7453 6350 between 9am and 5pm.
The Association of British Travel Agents is a trade body which aims to ensure that its member tour operators and/or travel agents are financially sound, that the descriptions in their brochures are accurate, that they provide a high quality of service to consumers, that the money paid by customers is safe, and that the consumer will not be left stranded abroad. ABTA has a 'code of conduct' which members must adhere to. Members can be fined, required to make undertakings about future conduct or have their membership terminated or suspended. However, the most important weapon in ABTA's arsenal is the ability to publish the results of disciplinary hearings if they feel it's necessary.
If you buy a flight-based package or seat through an ABTA tour operator, the financial protection will normally be provided by ATOL, which itself is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority. ABTA has its own discretionary financial protection scheme for non-air holidays such as ferry and coach travel. In order to benefit from the protection of ABTA, the consumer should ensure that the tour operator is a member of ABTA, not just the travel agent.
In addition to the financial protection described above, ABTA provides a low-cost, independent arbitration service to resolve disputes about the quality of a holiday provided by one of its members. This service is administered by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. It does not involve a personal appearance, since all is done on paper. The decision of the arbitrator is final and legally binding. If consumers use this service and they are not satisfied with the result, they can appeal the decision for a further fee or take the matter to the High Court. You must appeal the arbitrator's decision within 21 days, and if you resort to court action, it must be referred to the High Court within 28 days. These time limits are strictly enforced.
ABTA's contact details are:
30 Park Street
Tel: 020 3117 0500
Fax: 020 3117 0581
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) describes itself as the "UK's independent specialist aviation regulator".
The CAA was established by Parliament in 1972 and its activities include economic regulation, airspace policy, safety regulation and consumer protection.
They can be contacted at:
Consumer Protection Group
020 7453 6424
(Consumer advice line Mon to Fri 10.00am to 5.00.pm)
Some tour operators are members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO). AITO has an independent mediation service which you can use to resolve a complaint with a member firm. If you want to use this service, there is a non-refundable fee.
AITO's contact details are:
133a St Margaret's Road
Tel: 020 8744 9280
Fax: 020 8744 3187
Complaints about a rail operator should first be made to the relevant rail operating company. If it is not dealt with satisfactorily, the complaint can be referred to the Secretary of the local Rail Passengers' Committee (RPC), who can take the matter further. There are eight RPCs nationwide, and the address of your local Rail Passengers' Committee can be obtained from the Rail Passengers' Council. The Rail Passengers' Council's operating name is Passenger focus. The Council does not cover rail services in Northern Ireland, which are dealt with by the General Consumers Council for Northern Ireland.
The Rail Passengers' Council's contact details are:
PO BOX 4257
Tel: 0300 123 0860
Fax: 020 7713 2729
Or for stakeholder queries
14 Pentonville Road
Bonded Coach Holidays runs a scheme to protect customers who have booked a package holiday which includes coach travel. The scheme ensures that you will get either your money back, or will be provided with alternative transport if your coach company goes out of business. There are also conciliation and arbitration schemes to deal with complaints against member firms.
The Bonded Coach Holidays' contact details are:
Tel: 020 7240 3131
Fax: 020 7240 6565
The Confederation of Passenger Transport runs a bonding scheme to protect customers who have booked a package holiday which includes coach travel. The bonding scheme ensures that you will get your money back if the coach company goes out of business. The Confederation also runs a conciliation and arbitration scheme to deal with complaints against member firms.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport's contact details are:
Tel: 020 7240 3131
Fax: 020 7240 6565
Complaints about a rail operator in Northern Ireland should first be made to the relevant rail operating company. If it is not dealt with satisfactorily, the complaint can be referred to The Consumer Affairs Officer of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.
The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland's contact details are:
Consumer Affairs Officer
Consumer Council for Northern Ireland
116 Holywood Road
Consumerline: 0845 600 6262
Tel: 028 9067 2488
Fax: 028 9065 7701
HolidayTravelWatch is an organisation which offers advice and help to people who have had problems with holidays run by UK tour operators.
The HolidayTravelWatch's contact details are:
PO Box 12768
Tel: 0845 017 9229
Tourism for all provides holiday and travel information, support and a booking service for older people and people with a disability. You can contact them at:
Tourism for All UK
Shap Road Industrial Estate
Cumbria LA9 6NZ
Tel: 0845 124 9971
Fax: 01539 735567
If your holiday does not match the description in the holiday brochure or newspaper advertisement, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA cannot award compensation, but can take action to have a brochure or advert withdrawn or changed, so that it does not mislead others. For further information, contact the ASA enquiry desk on: 020 7492 2222.