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With many of us already booking our summer 2013 holidays, the last thing any of us want is to put our holiday at risk. So, when you are booking your package, always look for the ATOL symbol - it's a symbol of protection. We're here today to talk to David Clover from the Civil Aviation Authority about what ATOL means to you...
Q1: What does the ATOL scheme mean to a consumer? David Clover (DC): ATOL actually is a protection scheme for consumers. It means that customers who pay money to a travel firm will have that money protected but it will also mean that they won't be stranded abroad if their holiday company fails while they're on holiday.
Q2: How should a holidaymaker check that their holiday is actually covered by the ATOL scheme?
DC: Well there are three clear steps consumers should be taking. First thing is to look before you book. Look at the website, look in brochures, and look for the ATOL logo - on that will be an ATOL number. Now that ATOL number is a unique licence number granted by the CAA to that travel company, and it means they have a valid licence.
The second step is then to look on our website. On that website you can check that number or you can check the firm's name, and that will confirm to you that the firm is protected.
The third step then is - if you're booking an air holiday - make sure at the time you make your payment to the travel company that you get an ATOL certificate. That ATOL certificate will confirm to you that your travel arrangements are indeed protected by the ATOL scheme.
Q3: Now, in 2012, the CAA brought into effect some new changes to the ATOL scheme - so what were those changes, and why have those changes been made?
DC: With the government, and with the trade associations and the travel industry, we've worked together to create a new scheme of ATOL, telling customers that they are protected by the scheme. And that document should be issued to customers at the point they pay their money to the travel firm.
And that's an important step because it means that their protection is clear to them straight away. They have a document that they can keep safe or keep with them, so if anything does happen, they've got their rights to protection there and then.
Q4: Can you talk me through the new certificate and the information that is shown on it?
DC: Now this is the certificate and how it should look when you book and pay for an ATOL-protected holiday. Clearly it sets out some information about it being an ATOL certificate, and it sets out some of the detail of the holiday, so it might, for example, have the destination, airport, the duration of your travel arrangements, that kind of thing. It mentions who you are, the customer; what you're buying and what's protected; and also tells you who exactly is providing you protection - the ATOL holder that is providing that financial protection to you as the customer. So that's three key pieces of information there.
At the bottom, there will be a reference number. That should link up to another important document you'll get when you book a package, which is the confirmation. The confirmation will provide a lot more information about the holiday that you've booked, and it will have a unique booking reference - that unique booking reference should also appear here, along with the date the certificate was issued, and who the issuer is.
Now, if you buy your holiday through a travel agent, the name of that agent would normally appear here - not to be confused with your tour operator, whose name appears at the top of the certificate. So, you might see that there are two different names here. That's not a problem, it just simply means this is the guy protecting your holiday, and down here will be the issuer - the travel agent - who's actually made the booking for you.
Q5: What should a consumer do with that certificate once they've made their booking, and when would they ever need to use it?
DC: Well, it's an important document, and like all those documents - passport, insurance and suchlike - the key thing is to keep it safe. Don't put it in the bin with other papers, keep the certificate safe, and take it on holiday with you.
If a failure were to occur, that will help you and that will help us deal with the problem. It will mean that we can get you home quickly, and it will means that if you're not abroad and you've not taken your holiday, we can sort out a refund for you as quickly as we can.