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Do you need a licence or bonding to be a travel agent?

Do you need a licence or bonding to be a travel agent?

Everyone looks forward to getting away from it all, taking a well-earned holiday from the usual day-to-day grind, and although some book online, a travel agent is still the first port of call for many holidaymakers who want to know that help is on the end of a phone if they need it.

If you want to become a travel agent and book peoples’ dream holidays, are there any regulations and do you need a licence or any sort of bonding?

What is a travel agent licence? 

In the UK, while you don’t need any formal qualifications to become a travel agent, it is advisable to have an ATOL licence and be a member of ABTA. You will need some sort of bonding or a licence, depending on the type of holiday you intend to sell. 

The industry is highly regulated and licences are designed to protect the consumer when something goes wrong. If the airline company cancels the flight, or the hotel closes, for example, the relevant travel agent licence protects the holidaymakers financially, reassuring them that their money is safe. It also provides customers with the promise that they are not going to be stranded somewhere with no way of getting home should a company cease trading.  

A different licence or bonding is required for each type of holiday you intend to offer. To book airline flights, for example, you’ll need an ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence), and for non-flight-based holidays, ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) bonding is advisable.

The size of the ATOL licence can vary depending on the amount you’ll need to reimburse consumers (see below). If you are arranging holidays for less than 500 people every year, in the event of a cancellation, fewer people will be requesting refunds, and therefore the cost will be less.

READ MORE: Is it possible to become a travel agent without any experience?

What are the benefits of being a certified travel agent? 

A travel agency with an ATOL licence and ABTA bonding offers legitimacy, giving customers confidence that they will receive a reliable, trustworthy service while demonstrating to holiday companies that the agency takes their business seriously. 

Becoming licenced also offers you peace of mind. Your licence ensures that your customers will be looked after in the event a company goes out of business leaving them stranded overseas. By providing full refunds if they are yet to travel, or making sure people can finish their holidays and return home safely without being out of pocket, you and your customers can relax.  

Joining a professional organisation such as ABTA provides several other benefits, too. Offering help and guidance in the event of a crisis, legal advice, and operational support, membership of these bodies can help to build and advance your travel agency. You’ll also enjoy promotional offers and receive essential industry updates, allowing you to be ahead of your competitors, gaining an edge that both you and your customers will benefit from.

To ensure your  travel agency provides your customers with the very best protection, take a look at the industry’s three most prominent and well-respected organisations:

ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing)

An ATOL licence allows you to sell airline tickets to your customers.

If you are an agent for an ATOL licence holder and selling flights for them, you are not required to hold your own ATOL licence, although you must keep detailed records and documents of your sales. 

ATOL issues four types of licence:

  • Standard ATOL – this is for agencies that plan to carry in excess of 500 passengers per year
  • Small business ATOL – this is necessary if you plan on selling less than 500 flight-based holidays every year
  • ATOL to ATOL trade sales – if you intend to sell to other ATOL licence holders, you’ll need this licence 
  • Franchised ATOL – if you expect to sell a maximum of 1,000 flights or holidays per year and are a member of an approved travel trade organisation, you’ll be required to have a franchised ATOL licence

It’s important to note that flights booked directly with airlines lack ATOL protection. 

ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents)

Dealing with non-flight-based holidays, an ABTA licence covers customers travelling by train, coach or ship. ABTA is the most widely recognised trade association and offers a package that provides detailed industry updates, legal advice, crisis management and business support. However, ABTA membership can be expensive, especially if you are just starting your travel agency. 

TTA (The Travel Trust Association)

Providing a low-cost, flexible alternative for travel agents wanting financial protection for themselves and their customers, the TTA offers an attractive package. Membership includes industry support and guidance, access to the latest travel technology, and the freedom to design your own business strategy, allowing you to grow at a pace you’re comfortable with. 

AITO (The Association of Independent Tour Operators Limited)

Whilst AITO does not provide licences, it does advise its members on a wide range of support and is well worth joining. 

Promoting sustainable tourism, it offers legal advice, training courses, marketing initiatives and PR events. AITO also provides a space for industry discussions and boosts links to your business on its websites. 

Become a travel agent fast

Designed to make becoming a travel agent easy, The Travel Franchise can help you build your perfect business from scratch. Our fully accessible training programme and ongoing mentorship are the only certifications you need to become a successful travel agent. Also, our franchise packages mean you will get access to all the training, support and booking platforms necessary to start selling holidays with ABTA and ATOL protection immediately after expert training. 

From the comfort of your own home, you need no prior experience, and there’s no limit to your earning potential. Hundreds of homeworking travel consultants have already surpassed their goals with our support and guidance – why not join them and achieve your dream?  

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