The cruise world is reeling following news that a major cruise-related holiday firm has ceased trading.
British firm All Leisure Holidays Limited, trading as Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery, ceased trading on Wednesday, 4 January 2017. Some 13,000 forward bookings are affected. Reports from the UK say about 500 passengers learned of the collapse just as they were about to begin a New Year voyage from Malaysia.
The way the collapse is being dealt with reveals stark differences in how consumers are treated in Britain and Australia.
ABTA, formerly known as the Association of British Travel Agents (the British version of AFTA) but which now prefers to use just its four initials, posted the following notice on its website yesterday:
“All Leisure Holidays Limited, trading as Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery, was a Member of ABTA.
“If you have booked a holiday with Swan Hellenic or Voyages of Discovery, all trips are now cancelled and your booking will not go ahead.
“We need to provide you with some specific advice depending on the type of booking that you have made. It is very important that you closely follow this advice.”
Then follows some vital information which shows how such matters are handled in Britain, and how different the situation is in Australia.
Information for customers who have booked through a travel agent
If you made your booking through an ABTA travel agent then you will need to contact your agent for advice and guidance.
Please do this before anything else.
Information for customers that booked directly with Swan Hellenic or Voyages of Discovery
Holidays that include a flight
If your holiday included a flight – you will have received an ATOL certificate at the time of booking, this would have been either posted to you, or emailed to you. Or if you booked your holiday in a travel agency, you would have had the ATOL certificate handed to you with your paperwork.
If this is the case, you need to contact the CAA directly. Please visit the CAA website for more information.
Other types of holidays/travel arrangements
If you have booked another type of holiday, including a UK departing cruise on the Swan Hellenic Minerva, and the Voyages of Discovery Voyager ships, you will need to make a claim to get your money back. This is because all future bookings have been cancelled and the holidays will not go ahead.
You can make a claim online.
Customers who require further information or help, should contact us on: 020 3758 8742.
Important information for customers who are currently overseas only
Any customers that are currently overseas will be repatriated to the UK. If you need any help or assistance please call us on: 020 3117 0553.
Please only call this number if you are currently overseas.
Whilst this news may be extremely upsetting for you, please be assured if your holiday is booked with All Leisure Holidays, including their Swan Hellenic or Voyages of Discovery brands, we are here to help you to navigate through the process of recovering your money and rebooking your travel arrangements through an ABTA Member.
About a third of the 13,000 or so future bookings are ex-UK departures, which are financially protected by ABTA. The rest are protected under the company’s ATOL.
Since 1973, by law, every UK travel company which sells air holidays and flights is required to hold an ATOL, which stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence.
If a travel company with an ATOL ceases trading, the ATOL scheme protects customers who had booked holidays with the firm. It ensures they do not get stranded abroad or lose money.
The scheme is designed to reassure consumers that their money is safe, and will provide assistance in the event of a travel company failure.
ATOL is backed and administered by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
CAA confirmed yesterday it had stepped in to support thousands of holidaymakers, after All Leisure Holidays Ltd stopped trading.
A CAA statement said:
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has stepped in to support thousands of ATOL protected holidaymakers who were booked to travel with All Leisure Holidays Ltd (ATOL 3897) after the company stopped trading.
The decision by the company means Voyages of Discovery and Swan Hellenic, both part of the All Leisure Holidays have stopped trading with immediate effect, with approximately 7000 bookings for future holidays. Unfortunately for customers, all future holidays booked with the company have now been cancelled. However, as the company was part of the CAA’s ATOL scheme, customers with ATOL protected holiday bookings will be able to claim a full refund for their trip.
Approximately 400 customers are currently overseas, but the vast majority of these will be able to use the scheduled airline tickets included as part of their booking to return to the UK shortly. The CAA has made arrangements to bring the small number of remaining passengers back to the UK at no extra cost.
Cruise holidays involving flights must be ATOL protected, when sold in the UK. Customers who booked holidays involving flights through Voyages of Discovery and Swan Hellenic should have received an ATOL certificate when they made their booking. Cruise trips not involving flights are not protected by ATOL, but may be protected by ABTA.
Head of ATOL at the CAA, Andy Cohen, confirmed that the CAA “exists for exactly this kind of situation and we are making immediate arrangements so all ATOL protected customers can claim full refunds as quickly as possible.
“We are also arranging for people currently overseas to get back home to the UK at no extra cost.
“So while this situation is very disappointing for the customers affected, it is also a timely reminder of the importance of remembering to check for ATOL protection when booking holidays. By making sure you receive an ATOL certificate when you book, you have peace of mind you will not lose your money or have to make your own way home – even if your travel company stops trading.”
The statement is a powerful reminder that British consumers are far better protected than their Australian counterparts. Britain’s ATOL functions rather like Australia’s former Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) in providing consumer protection.
If a travel company with an ATOL stops trading, the ATOL scheme protects customers who had booked holidays with the firm. It ensures they do not get stranded overseas or lose money, as happens regularly in Australia when travel agents fail.
In Australia, consumers were for years protected by state licensing. It required all Australian travel intermediaries to be members of the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF), which provided consumers with comprehensive protection in the event of a travel agency collapse.
That was until 1 July 2014, when travel agency licensing was collectively abandoned by the state and territory governments. That resulted in the dismantling of the TCF and its replacement by ATAS (the travel agent accreditation scheme operated by AFTA) which in itself does not deliver consumer protection but relies on individual accredited agents to source and provide their own individual forms of consumer protection.
Written by Peter Needham