As ABTA delegates make their way to Turkey for this year's Convention, some of its agency members have expressed concerns about the way the association is going.
Steve Endacott, chief executive of On Holiday Group, is among those who have accused ABTA of not doing enough to protect agents from the reprecussions of Flight-Plus and has made his views known in his regular blogs.
Travel Counsellor chairman David Speakman has joined the fray. Here's what he has to say...
"In his blog, Steve Endacott warns the association that there is unrest by agent members. At the ABTA Convention in 2006 I warned agents that they had been disenfranchised and ABTA were more interested in looking after the interests of their tour operator members. My speech was unwelcome and controversial, I pointed out the massive reserves ABTA had accumulated that would in future contribute to tour operator agenda. I told agent members that their payments for bonding were only to pay for operators' pipeline monies, no longer to protect the customer. I had been a passionate member of ABTA and had served twice on its Travel Agents Council. Travel Counsellors decided to leave ABTA as, unlike many other agents, we had the wherewithal to survive outside.
Since then ABTA has changed its name from the Association of British Travel Agents to "ABTA, the Travel Association", ended the financial protection offered to customers when agents go bust, failed to comply with the OFT Consumer Code Approval Scheme only seven months after it was first approved and has amalgamated with the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO).
Outwardly little seems to have changed, but as I predicted the drumbeat of ABTA has changed. It has paid lip-service to its agent members as it dances to the tune of its tour operator masters. It's once customer-facing agenda steered by its independent agents for the mutual benefit of all has been replaced by ABTA being a political lobbying tool for the larger tour operator members of ABTA.
I warned ABTA agents they would have no voice and I take no pleasure in being proved correct. With the FTO "Trojan horse", Tour Operators dominating the Board of Directors and the Secretariat, as always, siding with its larger but minority stakeholders, the voice of the agent and the real interests of customers are being disregarded.
The industry should not be represented by an Association that purports to represent the industry, but is a mouthpiece for the previously ineffective FTO representing the vested interests of a minority that will restrict choice and flexibility. It should reflect the impartiality that customers now demand and independent agents provide."
With the recent Flight-Plus scheme, agents now have become the 'insurers of the industry'.
A car dealership that guarantees the car but without the carmaker being at all responsible would never be fair, equitable or tolerated. ABTAs' misguided lobbying betrayed its agents with its tameness, then once Flight-Plus was a reality they allowed tour operator members to tardily respond to the need for new agent agreements which placed the implementation of agent Flight-Plus in jeopardy. Yet ABTA purported to help with the obtaining of Atol Flight-Plus but was found wanting with its lack of will to instruct its operator members. Operators have now placed an obstacle in the path of "dynamic-packaging" or "tailor-made" and consequently customer choice, yet those operators with airlines have in many cases avoided flight-only protection."
Before the next stage of The Package Regulations are decided, agents need to ensure that their views are fully represented, with those views undoubtedly reflecting their and their customers' interests, which have always been mutual.
In the future the simplicity of booking will become a given, but the validation and impartial advice that a customer seeks will be the lifeblood of the independent agent and that agent must have the "ear" of the Government of the day. It is in everyone's interest to have a vibrant industry and one that can serve and build trust with the customer. Surely it is now time for all independent agent members to hold ABTA to account."
* What do you think of what David Speakman has to say? Are you happy with the way is ABTA is going?
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Tuesday, October 9, 2012
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