Travel Republic has been highlighted as one of the agents confusing the public over financial protection in a Which? travel report.
Which? claims financial protection is the second most important factor people consider when booking a holiday, cited by 92% of members and 85% of the general public in surveys this summer.
But 70 mystery calls by the consumer watchdog to The Co-operative Travel, Easyjet Holidays, Expedia, Lastminute.com, Lowcostholidays, Thomas Cook, Thomson, and Travel Republic found the information they received was often unclear, misleading and inaccurate.
Agents were asked to put together a flight and accommodation and a flight and car hire, specifically picked so they would have to put the components together themselves.
The information received about financial protection was inaccurate in 18% of responses and potentially misleading in 10% as it could lead customers to misunderstand the role played by the different associations, according to Which?.
The report said: "For instance, one member of staff at Travel Republic said that its ABTA membership meant that if any of the suppliers in the holiday went bust - including, in this case, Ryanair - all money would be returned.
"This is incorrect because, while Travel Republic does provide protection through insurance, its ABTA membership would not protect customers against a no-frills airline collapsing.
"But, the advice given appears to have more to do with the individual than the company - another Travel Republic agent correctly advised a shopper that ABTA membership protected their money if the agency went bust, and supplier failure insurance protected against an airline or car hire company collapsing."
A spokesman for Travel Republic was unavailable for comment.
Which? says although 34% of agents managed to get across a general message about financial protection, they were often so vague that customers were unlikely to get a full understanding of how they were protected.
Only three of the agents told the caller about how their money would be protected without being asked.
The research comes as the Government is looking at ATOL reform in order to simplify financial protection and the industry is calling for flights to be included in the scheme.
"This Holiday Which report simply confirms something ABTA has been saying for years, that the current systems of financial protection are confused and confusing for both the travelling public and the travel industry itself.
"This is why it is so important that the Government get ATOL reform right and in particular they must include airlines within the framework of the scheme which will both extend protection and remove much of the confusion at source," said an ABTA spokesman.
The Which? report will be used to make a submission to the ATOL consultation process.
By Diane Evans
Do you alert consumers to financial protection? Is this criticism of the trade unfair? Click add a comment below.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011