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Published on Monday, January 11, 2021

British Travel Awards defends voting system after credibility called into question

The British Travel Awards has insisted its voting system stands up to scrutiny after two companies which drew criticism for their refund policy scooped numerous wins in the 2020 awards.

Questions were raised after On the Beach and Sykes enjoyed enormous success despite refusing to fully refund packages after the Foreign Office advised against travel.

It was suggested the wins for both companies may have been swayed by votes from employees, with one critic believing the success of On the Beach and Sykes was 'not credible'.

BTA Chief Executive Lorraine Barnes Burton defended the system, insisting any irregular patterns - including mass voting from a firm's own staff - would have been picked up.

"Travel industry personnel are allowed to vote in the BTAs, they are consumers after all and have their own opinions and favourite travel companies," she said.   

"All BTA voters must, however, register using their personal details, they should vote from their personal email but can vote from a company (nominee) network.

"They are dissuaded from using work emails and block voting from a common IP and also third party voting by bots, will be picked up and be subject to further scrutiny.

"In fact, seven tests are applied to the voting database and should a company's votes fail these tests, the records are extracted and submitted for review by a panel of judges who will rule on their validity. Votes that are determined as suspicious are deducted from the final count."

Lorraine said analysis of the votes did not show any irregularity.

"Looking at the voting figures, even in the unlikely event that every single On the Beach employee had taken the trouble to register and vote from their personal emails the result would have been unaffected, the company was streaks ahead of the silver and bronze winners."

On the Beach, which quit ABTA last year over its refusal to refund customers unless it was able to recoup the money from airlines, was voted Best Online Travel Retailer and LGBTQ+ Holiday Company.

It also took the gold awards in the large company category for Best Family Holiday Company, Best All-Inclusive Holiday Company, Best Holiday Company to south and southeast Europe and Best Holiday Company to the Iberian Peninsula and the Islands.

Sykes Cottages, which also refused to fully refund customers for rentals that were cancelled during the summer lockdown until the Competition and Markets Authority stepped in, was named Best Holiday Cottage Holiday Company in the large category.

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  • Suspect voting patterns

    The organisers of the BTA's should look at the numbers of votes for individual companies to assess the credibility of the voting system. Is it likely that Sykes Cottages would get 20 times as many votes as the company that came in second place, Cottages. com? And have the organisers looked at the number of votes for each company in 2019 and 2020? The overall number of votes in the BTA's was down by around 75% this year. Was this true for the companies that won this year? If not, it points towards mass voting by staff and their families and friends. But of course the organisers encourage friends and families of staff to vote, so perhaps it is fair!

    By Steve White, Monday, January 18, 2021

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