Saved from the slippery slopes

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Let another school tour operator has gone bust, the latest in a regrettably long line. Fortunately, a rescue by East Renfrewshire and Falkirk councils preserved the Easter ski trips to New England, but not without massive anxiety. Those with long memories will recognise that tour operators crash just before groups travel when bills have to be settled with flight carriers and hotels abroad. By then, the deposits of pupils and teachers, made up to a year in advance, have long gone. Companies have traditionally used advance payments to subsidise their business.

It is now illegal not to have proper financial security. But ministers left the options open to companies. This has merely confused group leaders who are often persuaded by heavy marketing gloss. The unscrupulous, inept or unlucky in business have not been dissuaded.

Small companies can often not afford to pay the high costs of insuring with Abta (the Association of British Travel Agents), which is the gold standard for security. They have to present audited accounts and then pay a percentage. Some go elsewhere for cheaper cover.

In East Renfrewshire at least, Abta or the Atol bond for flights, will become the only guarantee. That is clear. It will jeopardise the operations of smaller operators and it does not rule out companies crashing - but at least cash and school trips are protected.

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