Thomas Cook collapse will make holidaymakers think very carefully about travel insurance, experts say

Simon Calder
Rescue mission: Dame Deirdre Hutton (highly visible), chair of the Civil Aviation Authority, with the crew of a Malaysia Airlines jet at Palma airport: Simon Calder

The collapse of Thomas Cook will make holidaymakers think more carefully about consumer protection, travel industry leaders say.

The failure last month of the 178-year-old tour operator has been the main topic at the Abta Travel Convention in Tokyo.

Around 150,000 British holidaymakers were abroad with Thomas Cook when it went into liquidation on 23 September. A further 800,000 have forward bookings, and are seeking refunds under the Atol scheme.

Brian Young, managing director of G Adventures, said: “It’s been highly publicised in the news. It’s been on every single day.

“It does highlight to the consumer that if you actually book a protected holiday then your money’s safe.

“That’s one of the positives to come out of a very unfortunate situation.”

Consumer protection for travel has been criticised for being so complex. Package holidays that include a flight have Atol protection, those without may be covered by Abta, and credit cards offer alternative protection.

But Mr Young said the collapse of two large firms – Monarch two years ago and Thomas Cook last month – will make travellers ask: “Is the holiday that I’m purchasing protected, has it got Atol?

“If I’m not going to buy a protected holiday then I should be booking flights with my credit card.

“If they didn’t know before, they certainly do now.”

Derek Moore, chairman of Aito, the specialist travel association, said that the latest failure showed that scale is not a guarantee of success: “Think of Thomas Cook as a large fuel tanker. It can’t adjust quickly. Smaller operators can adapt more quickly to adverse economic conditions.”

Many specialist travel firms used Thomas Cook Airlines to fly their clients, and are now looking for alternative carriers.

Mr Moore said that the aviation market will soon fill the gap: “We may see carriers we’ve never heard of before, but as long as they have the right licences I don’t have a problem with that.”

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said: “Thomas Cook’s financial challenges were no secret, but the full extent of their indebtedness has only come to light recently.”

His association is is calling on the government to bring in protection for flight-only purchases to match the cover provided by Atol.

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