ABTA has been forced to defend itself after being reported to the Office of Fair Trading for allegedly failing to police members who falsely claim to offer financial protection that no longer exists.
In a statement issued today, ABTA said it had a rigorous system in place to ensure members traded fairly and provided accurate information. It said any members flouting its Code of Conduct could be expelled.
However, Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman, who made the complaint to the OFT, claimed several high-profile ABTA members were among those making the misleading claims.
Speakman, whose company protects clients' money in a trust account, claimed two members of the ABTA board of directors and four ABTA Regional Agent Council members had misled customers on their websites.
He first complained to ABTA in 2011, but decided to report the matter to the OFT following the recent collapse of ABTA member Express Bookers.
Speakman said: "The travelling public continue to be misled by some ABTA members that state to offer financial protection that no longer exists. ABTA's failure to police their own members vigorously and to implement consequences for non-compliance helps this problem to fester throughout its member network.
"In early 2011 Travel Counsellors wrote to ABTA to complain about a large number of its members stating on their websites and billboards that they were 'fully bonded' and provided complete financial protection to their customers. In response ABTA released a notification in a bulletin to all ABTA agents asking them not to use these terms to describe the protection offered. However this has done little to address the issue and now the company is highlighting a number of key instances where ABTA members continue to mislead the public on their websites.
"Over the last two years we have exchanged emails with ABTA bringing this issue to their attention, asking them not just to issue advisory notes which members can disregard as there are no consequences.
"Such notes play to ABTA's agenda; they can claim they have always advised their members, yet still duck any legal consequences by appearing to 'do the right thing."
ABTA said it monitored members' 9,500 websites to ensure they were not misleading customers, by accident or design. "We don't monitor web content 24/7 but, through our system of spot checks, any Member that is found making a misleading claim will be asked to remove it or amend it," it said. "Failure to do so will likely result in a charge being brought against that Member under ABTA's Code of Conduct.
"In the vast majority of cases, Members act quickly to amend any inaccurate information before they are penalised, however any Member found to be in breach of the Code may be charged and, as a result, fined or ultimately expelled from the Association.
"ABTA has for many years worked with the Office of Fair Trading to enforce transparency across the industry, and we will continue to do so."
By Linsey McNeill
Thursday, August 23, 2012