Got a burning question? Put it to an expert at ABTA
Q: I am an ABTA retail agent and I recently had to assist customers with claims against failed ABTA and ATOL tour operators where we acted as their agent. This is not the first time I have had customers in this position, and I have often wondered why so much documentation is needed before claims are settled? Anon
This is a timely question. Due to the exceptionally difficult trading conditions the industry is currently experiencing, it is an unfortunate reality that you may well have to assist other customers with their claims.
The first point to bear in mind is that the funds used to refund customers can come from a number of different sources, even though the payment itself will originate from either ABTA or ATOL. These sources include bonds, insurance and the Air Travel Trust, all of these providers quite rightly have the expectation that claims will be properly investigated and substantiated before payment is made in accordance with what is covered under these schemes of financial protection.
The first requirement is to clarify what kind of booking is in place. If there is financial protection in place, is it provided by ATOL or ABTA? Documentation such as ATOL certificates or confirmation invoices are essential, they clearly indicate what kind of contract and therefore what form of cover the customer had with the failed company. Without this crucial piece of information it makes it very difficult for either body to pay out and it is extremely important that you always pass on this documentation to customers at the time of booking.
The next requirement will be clear and conclusive evidence of the money that the customer has paid for the booking. Proof of payment is fairly easy to provide; copies of customer’s bank and credit card statements to yourself and then evidence that you have passed the money over to the failed company, again generally bank statements with a breakdown of any bulk payments. Simply having an invoice showing amounts paid, would not be viewed as sufficient for auditing purposes.
Relatively few customers pay by cheque now, but they would have had get a copy of the cheque or letter from their bank to show that it had cleared, which is still a requirement for the few that choose to pay by this method.
Some customers will also pay by bank transfer and the required information is a mix of the two above and will usually require a bank statement showing the transaction, or a letter from the bank confirming the transaction details.
We try to make all documentation requirements very clear throughout the claims process and will endeavour to settle claims as quickly as possible, but this process will be delayed if either you or the customer has not followed the correct procedures. Where lengthy delays occur, they are nearly always caused by incorrect or incomplete documentation being submitted with a claim.
Having said that, on occasion with more complex cases, we may have to request some additional information about a booking, but we will only do so where it is not clear from the paperwork what the claim relates to.
Lastly, claims can also be a tempting target for fraudsters. The claims processes, which have been operating successfully for many years, make any such attempts much more difficult for unscrupulous types and our claims teams are adept at spotting and winnowing out suspicious applications through automated system checks and regular training of our claims teams.
– Steve Abrahamson, ABTA head of risk management
Each issue we speak to a different ABTA employee about their work. This time: Danny Waine, head of membership
Having worked in the industry for almost 20 years and for three different ABTA members myself, including running my own business, I approach each day through the lens of a member.
We have a wealth of knowledge and expertise across the ABTA team to support the diverse membership of large multinational brands, specialist tour operators, retail travel agents, managed branch businesses, OTAs, consortia, TMCs, cruise companies, single element components, hosted agents, homeworkers and the many other business models that now exist. The days of the binary travel agency versus tour operator model are long gone.
My team has regular discussions with potential new members about which model within the ABTA family would best support their business, from start-ups considering the managed branches, to those seeking an ABTA membership in their own right, through to well-established travel businesses craving more flexibility and freedom, or access to the many member benefits that ABTA has to offer.
It is important to me that members are aware of and fully utilising all the services and benefits they have access to through their membership.
There are services that members have used for years, including financial protection, legal, arbitration and member support. However, there are so many more that exist, from up-to-the-minute operational bulletins from the destinations team, industry affairs engagement opportunities and sustainability frameworks and tools, right through to practical, free business resilience webinars and events.
I often deliver training presentations to ABTA members and their teams to ensure that members are making the most of their membership. They can do this by harnessing the power of the ABTA brand in their own marketing to improve sales conversions, using materials from the ABTA communications team to better educate consumers and encouraging them to promote the ABTA ‘Travel With Confidence’ messaging.
I spend as much of my time as possible engaging with members, whether its face-to-face via Teams, telephone calls, email, or on social media. Listening to member challenges, working out ways that we can best help them and often giving one-to-one advice, as well as linking them up with ABTA’s 180 corporate partners, which provide essential business services.
Strategically, it’s about looking to the future and considering what will the travel industry of tomorrow look like? How can we ensure that we’re adding value for our members? What services do members want to best support their businesses through the challenges and help them grow their business sustainably long into the future? These conversations are happening daily within ABTA, and I would encourage members to contact me directly with their own ideas and suggestions.
With consumers 20 per cent more likely to book with a travel professional than before the pandemic, there has never been a better time for members to make the most of the ABTA brand and utilise ABTA membership to their advantage.