Last minute ATOL renewals and how to avoid “The List”

We have entered the business end of the ATOL renewal, and the deadline for travel firms to satisfy any final requirements, and renew their ATOL is just a frantic few weeks away.

From 2018, all ATOL renewal applications must be made through the CAA’s ‘ATOL Online’ system. By now, you should hopefully have completed the online application and be well on your way to renewing. If not then you had better get started!

Those who don’t renew on time face the very public humiliation of a period on the late renewal list- the CAA’s equivalent of the naughty step which is published on the CAA’s website for all to see.

At best, being on “The List” is an irritation you can do without. At worst, the resulting brand damage can knock the confidence of your suppliers and customers and really hurt your company.

Here, Travel Trade Consultancy Director and ATOL expert, Simon Brodie gives you 5 essential tips to help you renew on time and avoid finding yourself on The List.

1. Read and re-read your offer letter

If you’ve submitted your online application already, you should shortly receive a letter from your case officer setting out the terms you have to meet in order to renew your ATOL on time.

Make sure you read and re-read the offer letter and understand precisely what the CAA is asking you to do:

– Do you have to provide a bond?

– Do you have to inject fresh capital into your business? 

– Do you need to pay fees or will they be collected by Direct Debit? 

– Does your accountant need to submit Annual Returns? 

– Are you being offered a 6 or 12-month licence?

Your ATOL will only be renewed when you have satisfied all of the conditions outlined in the offer letter.

2. Get Proof of delivery on everything

Whilst certain documents can be submitted by email, the CAA will want to see original versions of bonds, guarantees or other legal documents.

The postal service can be unreliable and the CAA’s own post room starts to resemble the baggage reclaim area at Stansted Airport during the renewal period.

At TTC, we always hand deliver all of our clients’ documents or send them by recorded delivery or courier so there is indisputable evidence when something has been delivered.

3. Don’t forget to pay your fees

Your renewal fees must be in the CAA’s pocket before they will renew your ATOL – unless you’re already signed up to pay by Direct Debit, in which case well done you! Your fees will be collected the week after renewal.

Paying by Direct Debit is undoubtedly the best way to go because it reduces the hassle factor and costs you less -the CAA charges a lower fee if you pay both your renewal fees and your ATOL Protection Contributions (APC) by Direct Debit. If you want to sign up, you can obtain the necessary forms from your usual contact at the CAA.

If you don’t fancy DD we always advise our clients to pay by bank transfer and obtain proof of payment. Whilst cheque payments are still accepted by the CAA they can and do go missing. Plus they’re a bit 1980s.

4. Don’t assume. Get confirmation

The CAA does not automatically confirm when you have satisfied all of their renewal conditions but if you ask politely, your case officer will be able to update you.  You should also keep an eye on the status of your application on the portal and look for those magic words “Application Granted”.  

This is particularly sensible if you are relying on third parties such as your insurers to provide bonds or your accountant to provide independent confirmations.  If there is any delay in seeing this status change you should follow up with those third parties.  Providing all documents remains your responsibility and many ATOL holders have come unstuck because they assumed documents that were sent would arrive on time. Remember the old saying about “mother assumption” and her children.

5. Check the list

The CAA publishes “The List” on its website on 1 October and 1 April so if you really want to go belt-and-braces, check your company name isn’t on it. There have been instances in the past where companies thought they had met the conditions only to find out they hadn’t when it was too late.

If you do find yourself on The List, you should speak to your case officer to understand what you need to do to get off it as quickly as possible.

Travel Trade Consultancy provides advice, services and support to businesses in the travel sector specialising in matters related to ATOL. Next time, why not join over 100 other ATOL holders and let Travel Trade Consultancy handle your renewal for you? For more information, contact us.

TTC advises Travel Counsellors on their secondary buyout by Vitruvian Partners

2 June 2018

TTC was honoured to support Steve Byrne, Simon Shaw and the Travel Counsellors management team in their secondary buyout by Vitruvian Partners from Equistone Partners Europe.

Founded in 1994 by travel entrepreneur David Speakman, Travel Counsellors is a leading travel company delivering personal and bespoke travel services. From its global headquarters in Manchester, the company operates a franchisee model, with more than 1,800 self-employed Travel Counsellors working flexibly from home. Travel Counsellors has expanded internationally, adding operations in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Australia and the UAE.

In October 2014, Equistone backed a management buy-out of the business led by CEO Steve Byrne. Since then, the business has continued to experience rapid growth, with annual total transaction values growing by £130m to £512m. Statutory turnover and profit have also seen strong growth over the period, growing by an average of 17 per cent and over 20 per cent per annum respectively.

In 2017, the company was awarded the Best Customer Focus Award in the UK National Business Awards and has been named in the Sunday Times HSBC International Track six times, including in each of the last three years.

Vitruvian Partners, which has previously backed travel businesses Skyscanner, JacTravel and OAG, as well as a number of technology-enabled marketplaces including listed technology company Just Eat, will continue to invest in and build on Travel Counsellors’ success bringing its wide sector and technology experience together with the company’s differentiated business model and culture.

TTC Director Martin Alcock said “Having worked with Travel Counsellors over a number of years, including advising on the 2014 buy-out by Equistone, we were delighted to provide regulatory support on this transaction. We wish the management team well in the next chapter of their exceptional growth story.”

TTC advises Wyndham Worldwide Corporation on their sale of European rentals businesses

9 May 2018

TTC supported Wyndham Worldwide Corporation (WWC) in the successful completion of the previously announced sale of its European vacation rentals business to an affiliate of Platinum Equity, LLC, a leading global private equity firm, for approximately $1.3 billion.

The industry-leading European vacation rentals business is the largest manager of holiday rentals in Europe, with more than 110,000 units in over 600 destinations across more than 25 countries. The business operates more than two dozen local brands, including cottages.com, James Villa Holidays, Landal GreenParks, Novasol and Hoseasons.

TTC Director, Martin Alcock said “This was a large and complex corporate carve-out transaction requiring consent from a number of European regulatory bodies. We worked collaboratively with the teams from Kirkland & Ellis International and Latham & Watkins to ensure the transaction was structured to ensure we could deliver those regulatory approvals within the very tight completion timetable.

We wish the European management team good luck in their new relationship with Platinum Equity and we look forward to continuing to support them in future.”

The ATOL Financial Tests – 2 insights and 3 tips for a smooth ATOL renewal

As far as financial assessments go, the CAA’s old Free Asset Test definitely had its problems.

You could think of it as like a cantankerous old grandad.

It spent most of its time looking backwards at historic events; it threw out some strange opinions every now and then and it missed a lot of what was really going on.

Ultimately it wasn’t really working very well.

So its been bundled off to Dignitas to be replaced by a younger, fresher approach.

The CAA introduced its new ATOL Financial Test in June 2016, radically changing the way it financially assesses ATOL holders with less than £20m ATOL turnover per year.

Here is our summary of the new approach, together with our insights on what they mean in practice for ATOL holders. We’ve also included some tips for ensuring your next renewal goes smoothly.

If you have any questions, comments or insights you’d like to share with us, please get in touch.

The Travel Trade Consultancy

What is the new ATOL Financial Test?

The new Financial Test comprises a weighted score based on a series of 7 financial ratios:

  • the first 4 apply to Small Business ATOL holders (ie those carrying less than 500 ATOL passengers and £1m ATOL turnover annually).
  • all 7 apply to Standard ATOL holders carrying up to £20m turnover annually.
  • Companies with ATOL turnover greater than £20m are still subject to a separate, individual assessment and the ratios do not apply to them.

The financial ratios are:

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ATOL applicants will receive a binary pass or fail result. For those that fail, they will be advised on the required cash injection to cure the position and pass the Financial Test.

While the CAA has released which financial ratios make up the Financial Test, they have not released any detailed guidance on what each individual ratio needs to meet to “pass”.

This creates an obvious problem when trying to make key business decisions. If you don’t know what ratios are required to satisfy the regulator, how do you know for example:

  • how much dividend can be paid?
  • what can be spent on capex or marketing?
  • what is “free cash”?

One way around this is to use the ATOL Self Assessment Tool (ASAT) which allows you to submit draft accounts and receive an indication of the CAA’s assessment. You can submit multiple times enabling you to iterate when calculating dividends. However, the results aren’t always instant. Nor are they binding until you submit your final accounts.

Some guidance courtesy of TTC

In an effort to provide some further guidance, we analysed the data from 70 of our clients who renewed their ATOLs in September 2016 and we learned the following:

  1. What it means for Small Business ATOL Holders

If you’re a Small Business ATOL (SBA) holder, it’s likely this will be the first time you have had to submit financial information. Our analysis of our SBA clients who renewed in September 2016 showed the following average scores:

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  • a current ratio of greater than 1 and a leverage ratio of less than 1 were the leading indicators of passing the Financial Test;
  • Many businesses were being financially assessed for the first time and were asked for cash injections or security bonding. In some cases, these were material amounts.

 

2. What it means for Standard ATOL holders with ATOL turnover < £20m

For Standard ATOLs our data indicated the following results:

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  • The profitability ratio and cash ratio were leading indicators of satisfying the CAA;
  • Some operators did not pass the Financial Test as an SBA but managed to pass as a standard!

 

Tips for a smooth renewal

Here are our top tips to ensure your renewal goes as smoothly as possible.

  1. Make sure you have appointed an ARA

The CAA introduced the ATOL Reporting Accountant scheme in 2016 and will only accept reporting from registered ARAs so make sure your accountant is on the ARA register. In the previous renewal, many ATOL holders left it last minute to appoint an ARA meaning they either didn’t get their ATOL renewed on time, or they paid a hefty fee for a new accountant to step in at short notice.

 

2. Use the ASAT

The CAA has introduced the ATOL Self Assessment Tool (ASAT) which you can use to get an initial indication on how the CAA is likely to assess your accounts and will give an indication of any likely cash injections required.

Pro tip: you’ll get a much quicker response from the CAA if you press the submit button rather than email a pdf of your ASAT.

3. Get in early

Invitations to renew your ATOL normally go out 4 months before the deadline. Ensure your accounts are ready on time and your ATOL application has been submitted as quickly as possible to ensure your renewal is processed. If you’re late to the party you run a real risk of not having your ATOL renewed which means you wont be able to sell air holidays.

The renewal fee also increases if you submit later than 2 months before the deadline.

 

October 2016 ATOL consultation: the 8 things you need to know

My Saturday evenings were much simpler in 1992.

Reclining on the pop-up chaise in my shell suit, savouring a Tizer on the rocks, watching the incomparable Jet from Gladiators pole-axe Contenders. In the next room, my Mam would Shake’n’Vac the remnants of my Findus Crispy Pancakes to the blissed-out beats of Right Said Fred. Good times.

Last Saturday night was a very different affair though. On the 27 October 2016, the Department for Transport released their Consultation on Modernising the ATOL scheme to accommodate the new Package Travel Directive and it wasn’t going to read itself.

Like I said. A very different affair. Though I was wearing a shell suit.

 

Much like my wardrobe, The Package Travel Regulations have been in need of an upgrade ever since 1992. In fact, here is a timeline showing how long the process has been going.

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In November 2015, the European Parliament finally signed off the new Package Travel Directive text (PTD 2015) – a mere 8 years after kicking off the reform process.

Here is a picture of an actual glacier so you can compare the two.

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After taking so long to get to the point, we now have a race on our hands.

The consultation process setting out how PTD 2015 will work in the UK has been beset by Brexit shaped delays. Given these new laws will apply to holidays departing after July 2018 and that many companies will start selling their Summer 2018 programme in the next 6 months, it doesn’t leave much time.

Theres still a huge amount to do but this is an important next step. The consultation runs to 24th November 2016 so make sure you have your say here.

In the meantime, here are my 8 key takeaways:

  1. Brexit shmexit

First lets clear up one common question. Does the UK even need to push ahead with implementing another European Directive given the results of the referendum on EU membership?

On this point, the DfT is emphatic. The UK will still be a full member of the EU in July 2018 when the new rules come into force so its full steam ahead to implement PTD 2015 in full.

Of course, there’s still a big question mark over what happens after the UK has left the EU, but then the travel sector is hardly unique there….

  1. Place of establishment

One of PTD 2015’s most controversial cornerstones is the move to a Place of Establishment basis. In a nutshell, businesses will be regulated in the EU member state where they are established rather than where they sell holidays.

There are many practical questions still to be answered on this, like how will UK citizens be protected from another Lowcostholidays situation, not to mention how the UK travel sector will react if the healthy Air Travel Trust Fund balance is spent refunding and repatriating non-UK citizens.

On the positive side, new legislation will enable ATOL holders to protect their EU sales under the ATOL scheme, likely through the usual payment of ATOL Protection Contributions. This will make it much easier for UK companies to sell into the EU without the need to establish companies and apply for licences in those territories.

  1. Flight-Plus is dead

Flight-Plus was only introduced in 2012 and has remained fairly misunderstood by consumers and large sections of the trade ever since.

The wider definition of a package in PTD 2015 means that pretty much all Flight-Plus arrangements will become packages. The DfT has confirmed the Flight-Plus concept will be consigned to the history books. Thanks for coming. Its been an emotional ride. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  1. Flight-Only

Right now, the regulation of Flight-Only is a mess.

By way of recap, if a customer buys a Flight-Only direct from an airline, it’s exempt from the ATOL scheme. Buy the same flight via an agent and unless you get the ticket “immediately” you’ll get full ATOL protection but that agent will have to underwrite the cost of the airline failing.

To add to the confusion, the major vertically integrated tour operators (ie. those who own their own aircraft) regularly change their policy on Flight-Onlys to include or exclude them from ATOL protection to suit their wider business needs.

Most recently, Monarch reverted to selling their Flight-Onlys direct from the airline in October 2016 in order to claim the exemption from the ATOL scheme. Lest we forget, It was only 2014 that it brought them on to the ATOL scheme by selling them through First Aviation, their in-house agent, in order to reduce their Merchant Acquirer’s liabilities. Does the customer have a clue about any of this? I’d say its unlikely.

This is exclusively a UK problem too. No other EU member states require any sort of protection for Flight-Only.

There are only really 2 ways to tidy this up and make it clearer. Regulating all Flight-Onlys including the ones sold directly by airlines is off the table so the only viable option is to take all scheduled Flight-Onlys out of the ATOL scheme altogether. The DfT is seeking views on this option.

  1. Linked Travel Arrangements

We might well solve the over-complicated issues of Flight-Plus and Flight-Only, but we look like creating another in their place. The regulatory hospital pass from the EU known as Linked Travel Arrangements (LTAs).

Trying to define LTAs is an entire blog post in itself. Suffice it to say, the concept was mainly designed to protect sales where customers click through from an airline website onto an affiliate hotel partner. LTA arrangers only have to protect pipeline monies they are holding so customers purchasing this type of arrangement would have a significantly lower level of financial protection than when buying a full package.

Basically, LTAs look like an unworkable mess which explains why the DfT is wisely looking to sidestep them altogether. The DfT consultation suggests finding “market solutions” to cover LTAs and hints at a preference for keeping them well away from the ATOL scheme. It’s easy to see why. Bringing LTAs into ATOL would confuse the hell out of customers and severely weaken the ATOL protection message.

  1. Agent for the consumer

Agent for Consumer (A4C) is a legal switcheroo in the small print of terms and conditions whereby instead of an OTA acting as the airline’s agent in selling the flight to a customer, they act as the customer’s agent in buying the flight from the airline.

Its actually fairly common practice amongst OTAs as it helps avoid accusations they are organising packages and it wards off belligerent, agent-unfriendly Low Cost Carriers like Ryanair. It also nets OTAs a tidy 50% discount on their ATOL Protection Contribution (APC) for A4C sales.

If you don’t understand A4C, then you can be sure your customers don’t. One of the many reasons why PTD 2015 has outlawed it completely.

7. Business Travel

It’s long been a source of frustration for Travel Management Companies (TMCs) that they have to comply with ATOL protection in the first place. PTD 2015 will officially take TMCs out of the regulations, provided they operate under a framework contract with their corporate clients.

8. Other odds and sods

As a result of these planned changes, there’ll be tweaks to all key documents including Terms and Conditions, ATOL Certificates, agency agreements, confirmation invoices etc etc.

 

Written by Martin Alcock on 1 October 2016

TTC advises Travelopia on its buyout by KKR

Image result for KKR private equity logo png

15 June 2017

TTC advised Travelopia on the regulatory aspects of their corporate carve-out from TUI AG, and acquisition by KKR.

Travelopia, headquartered in the UK, is one of the world’s leading specialist travel groups, providing customers with unique experiences, such as sailing adventures, tailor-made holidays, sports tours, school expeditions, private jet travel and polar expedition cruises. Travelopia has a large, international customer base of over 800,000 travellers each year and serves over 70 destinations globally through its 53 brands.

Will Waggott, CEO of Travelopia, said: “KKR’s experience in the sector, global reach and digital expertise make it the perfect partner for Travelopia as we continue to grow. We look forward to working closely with the KKR team to continue to develop the business and our customer offer.”

Dominic Binefa, Finance Director of Travelopia, said: “We appointed TTC to assist with the regulatory aspects of carving Travelopia out of the TUI Group. Martin and his team worked closely with the senior management team throughout the very complex transaction process, providing advice and guidance on all licensing and bonding matters. TTC’s in-depth knowledge of the ATOL, ABTA and IATA requirements and their previous travel sector transaction experience was invaluable in helping us conclude a successful sale to KKR.”

Martin Alcock, Director of TTC, said: “Travelopia comprises a fantastic selection of blue chip, specialist travel brands and we were delighted to help the team carve them out of TUI group. This was a complicated transaction process due to the size and scale of Travelopia’s operations across many territories. We enjoyed worked closely with Travelopia management, their advisors, Citigroup and KKR’s deal team including Simpson Thatcher Bartlett LLP and Deloitte.”

About Travelopia

Officially formed in October 2016, Travelopia is one of the world’s leading specialist travel groups. A pioneer in the specialist travel sector with a portfolio consisting of more than 50 independently operated brands, most of which are leaders in their sector. From sailing adventures, safaris and sports tours, to Arctic expeditions, each brand is diverse and focused on creating unforgettable experiences for customers across the world.

Travelopia brands pride themselves on offering a seamless and dedicated customer journey. From the exceptional service and in-depth knowledge of the sales teams to best-in-class tour guides and concierges around the globe.

With a multitude of awards to their name, just some of the collection includes; Hayes and Jarvis, Sovereign, Exodus Travels, Citalia, Austravel, Gullivers Sports Travel, Flexiski, American Holidays, The Moorings, Sunsail, and Headwater.

Each of Travelopia’s companies started life as a small, independent business, before forming Specialist Group, a division of the TUI Group, the world’s largest leisure travel company. In May 2016 TUI announced the rebranding of Specialist Group to Travelopia and on 15 June 2017 KKR officially became the new owners of Travelopia.