Has the Traditional Travel Agent had its Day?

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Thomas Cook is one of the few remaining traditional high street travel agents.  It certainly took a gamble last year when it decided to merge with the travel agency arm of Co-operative Travel.  Those who work in the travel industry know that increasingly consumers are using varied and sophisticated means to book their holidays.  When looking to book a holiday the first port of call tends to be the internet.  Indeed, this is often also the first and last port of call as consumers shop around, find the best deal and then book all from the comfort of their own home.

And some of the most sophisticated contractual arrangements can be found when booking a holiday over the internet.  What was once perhaps a revolution in holiday bookings is now the norm.  The changes to the way holidays are booked poses a challenge for those looking to pursue a claim as a result of an accident abroad or if something goes wrong with the holiday.  It is not always clear who the consumer has entered into a contract with given the complicated contractual arrangements tour operators, travel agents and suppliers seem to be conjuring up.  It is not unusual for my colleagues and I to be confronted by a series of booking confirmations and holiday vouchers where X claims to be acting as agent for Y who in turn claims to act as agent for Z.  How on earth the average consumer is supposed to make sense of all this is frankly beyond me.

The law regulating package holidays is currently under review at a European level.  It is likely that any reform will include the more wide ranging types of holidays that are sold by web based tour operators and travel agents.  In addition to widening the meaning of a package holiday, the reforms are likely to move to a system where the fault of the tour operator is presumed, subject to limited exceptions.  This will be a big step in consumer protection if it happens. 

The UK government is already edging in the direction of a change to the legal definition of a package holiday through its proposed ATOL reforms.

In the meantime, there is a lot to be said for the certainty of protection a booking made with the traditional travel agents (Thomas Cook notably included) can offer.  And in times of continuing economic uncertainty, when booking a holiday you want to know your money is safe and you'll get a refund or be flown home should the travel company collapse before you travel or while you are abroad. 

If the traditional travel agent has had its day then the traditional package holiday, whatever guise it may take, most certainly has not.

Chris Deacon

Solicitor - Claims Abroad team

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