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Travel Agent Associations

There are two main travel agent trade associations in the UK; the Association of British Travel Agents and ATOL. Here we give you the lowdown on both these associations and how they can help holidaymakers when things go wrong.

Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA)
The UK's premier trade association for tour operators and travel agents, the Association of British Travel Agents has more than 7,300 members (1052 tour operators and 6310 travel agents). These members have a combined turnover of £26 billion and are responsible for the sale of around 85% of UK-sold holidays.

The association offers help and advice to consumers, who feel unsatisfied with the service offered to them by a travel agent or tour operator. In 2003 the ABTA dealt with around 17,000 complaints from customers, while in 2001 ABTA paid out damages of £2.2 million for travel agent failures and £90,000 for tour operator failures.

As well as representing the rights of consumers who have been poorly served by travel agents and tour operators, the ABTA also promotes the travel industry and campaigns for the rights of its members.

ATOL (run by the Civil Aviation Authority)
Managed by the Civil Aviation Authority, ATOL is actually a protection scheme for flights and air holidays as opposed to a trade association. The majority of firms who sell air travel in the UK, including all major travel agents, are required by law to hold an ATOL licence.

The ATOL scheme is designed to protect consumers from losing money or being stranded abroad if a tour operator goes out of business. All licensed firms must lodge bonds with the CAA so if they go out of business, the CAA can give refunds to people who canít travel and arrange for people abroad to finish their holidays and fly home.

This ATOL protection is usually included in the cost of a holiday booked with an ATOL holder, and there is also a Government-backed fund called the Air Travel Trust that steps in if any ATOL bond is not sufficient to look after everyone affected by a failure.

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