Monday, 31 December 2007

DIY catastrophes

About this time each year, some newspaper normally publishes a list of mishaps that have required admittance to a casualty unit in the UK. Everything from Christmas tree lights (don't water the tree with them switched on) to jumpers (don't try them on whilst smoking a cigarette).

This DIY peril, however will hurt you more in the wallet than anyone else.

On 22nd December, the Tour company, Travelscope collapsed, leaving many families stranded both home - on their way to a Christmas holiday, or abroad - returning from a pre-Christmas break. Up to 10,000 holidaymakers have been affected according to BBC News.

Whilst it is not the first one to collapse and undoubtedly will not be the last, its timing left a lot to be desired and the effects go beyond the 10,000. There is the staff, their families and the families of the holidaymakers to consider.

This all seems to make a good case for pulling together your own holiday package ('dynamic packaging'). However, the opposite is probably true. If you go to the Travelscope website and read the Administrator's letter, you can read the following (paraphrased) "For those travelling by Air, the company was bonded with ATOL - the Air Traveller Organisers' Licensing System. For those not travelling by air, it was bonded through ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents). In both cases, full refunds seem to be available".

If you pull together your own package, you do not get this protection, you are reliant on your own travel insurance coming to the rescue. That is, assuming that you have appropriate (or, indeed, any) insurance. If you pull together your own package, it will be up to you to take the steps to obtain your money due. Again, from the Travelscope Administrator, "AITO and ABTA are endeavouring to send claim forms out within 7-10 days of an administrator being appointed". They know what to do - they have done this before; this is the raison d'etre of the Bonding system - to protect the traveller.

DIY Holidays are all the rage. We're not bothered if we spend whole evenings surfing the Internet putting together our ideal package and patting ourselves on the back when we end up with a tailored and cheaper alternative to the Travel Agent or Tour Operator.

This trend will only continue and will eventually see the demise of the High Street Travel Agent. It is good for Internet-savvy travellers, but do bear in mind the hidden benefits of using an Agent. If it goes pear-shaped, you have someone to contact to sort out the mess. Assuming that they are Bonded, then you should get a near-100% refund of the holiday cost should the worst happen. Imagine that you are lying on a beach on Lanzarote and happen to read in your overpriced paper that the airline that you travelled with has just shut shop. Where would you even start to sort out the mess? How are you going to arrange flights back?

If you want to DIY, then take out appropriate Insurance from the start - unexpected things can happen to force you to abandon or cut short the holiday. Annual policies are great value for money in this respect.

There is room for those wishing to DIY as well as leaving all the hassle to an Agent. It's very unlikely that a Company will go bust, but ticketing mistakes do happen and hotels that look like Sandy Bay in the Brochure turn out to be Fawlty Towers on closer inspection. I'm not trying to teach anyone to suck eggs, but a phenomenal number of travellers do not buy Insurance and many flights and rooms are booked through unbonded Agents ('bucket shops') or Direct with the Hotelier who may have shut shop the week before you arrive. Just make sure that you know who to call when it does go Pete Tong. Ghostbusters probably cannot help this time.