ATOL turns 50

ATOL reform
By Lisa James
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The Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL scheme is marking its 50th anniversary this summer.

The first licences for the ATOL scheme, which steps in to protect passengers if their tour operator ceases to trade, were issued in 1973 as the popularity of overseas trips grew.

The system was set up when the first failures of tour operators, starting in the 1960s, led to increased calls for financial protection for consumers. 

In 1967 a Government committee under Sir Ronald Edwards published a report, British Air Transport in the Seventies, recommending the establishment of an aviation regulator, the CAA.

Over the last 50 years ATOL has also grown significantly to financially protect more than 26 million passengers a year. Last year, ATOL protected bookings made up around £27.7 billion in sales.

Since 2000 alone, ATOL has repatriated around 242,000 holidaymakers who were overseas at the time their tour operator went out of business and has settled more than 1.7 million claims for consumers who had bookings for travel at a later date.

ATOL was first called on to help consumers in August 1974 when Court Line, the second largest tour operator in the UK, with subsidiaries including Clarksons Holidays, Horizon, and Medvillas, collapsed leaving around 35,000 travellers abroad.

In 2008, the XL Leisure group went out of business, with the ATOL scheme helping to bring home 85,000 people and manage around 200,000 refund claims.

In 2017 and 2019 respectively, it stepped in to support holidaymakers impacted by the collapse of Monarch Airlines Group and Thomas Cook Group.  

Thomas Cook’s collapse was the biggest repatriation since the Second World War, seeing more than 140,000 passengers brought back to the UK within 14 days and millions more refunded for holidays they were not able to take.

CAA Interim Joint Chief Executive Paul Smith said: “It’s been an incredible 50 years for the ATOL scheme and while the travel sector has changed since 1973, ATOL has remained a vital companion financially protecting millions of consumers, providing much needed support when their holiday company ceased to trade.

“When Thomas Cook went out of business, we co-ordinated a massive operation to support customers who were affected.

“Failures on this scale are a very rare occurrence but have a big impact on individuals when they happen.

“Booking a package trip financially protected by the ATOL scheme continues to offer reassurance to consumers that they are protected should the worst happen, and they will be helped to get home and not left out of pocket.”

 The CAA is currently conducting a programme to reform the ATOL scheme to better protect consumers’ money by travel businesses and, as a result, improve the financial resilience of the ATOL scheme overall.

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