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Published on Monday, September 28, 2009

'ABTA puts one wheel back on a wheel-less car'


TravelMole Guest Comment by Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman
ABTA’s decision in 2006 to “cease payments to consumers in respect of failure of members conducting retail activities” effectively removed ABTA’s customer financial protection.
By doing so, in my view, ABTA surrendered its voice and credibility in any debate about customer protection.
No longer would ABTA pay out its money to fix problems when agents cease to trade, but rather argued that the customer was still financially protected as the customer could pursue their legal rights by insisting the suppliers performed the contract.
Legally ATOL holders had to do this, but the new breed of members that ABTA had courted (such as bed-banks, online sellers, agents or are they principals?) had less clarity in their legal responsibilities to the customer, yet ABTA expected they would pay up.
Even if they did that, non-members and suppliers overseas outside the jurisdiction of English law rendered this financial “promise” useless.
So ABTA had got off its financial promise, but forcing all its non-ATOL members to pay up if the agent went bust was another matter altogether.
By not paying they force customers to seek redress from their credit card companies, who in turn have imposed stricter financial criteria on almost every agent. 
So ABTA shoots itself in the foot with its misleading and confused promise and are now asking for the Articles of the Association to be changed so in future these new member companies have to stump up.
Even if the vote is carried it will not change anything, as these new boys on the block could leave immediately or more likely when the first big payout hits their desk.
But a vote on something as emotive as customer protection will give ABTA another fifteen minutes of PR that will again, at best confuse, or at worst fool an already confused customer and a loyal membership.
It all seems so pointless when such a once great association as ABTA dismantles its only USP then substitutes it with smoke and mirrors.
It seems to reflect (excuse the pun) yet another case of misleading the customer that continues to permeate the industry e.g. booking budget airlines, hidden charges.
Customers deserve clarity and fair dealing, not lip-service and posturing.
There are some fantastically passionate people in this industry and along with customers they deserve better leadership and clarity.
The only way to properly financially protect the customer is not to allow the agent or the supplier to hold the money until the product is delivered.
There is a need for a clean sheet of paper, blue sky thinking and a will to satisfy the customer, the credit card obligors and the suppliers’ pipeline money, all in a completely new initiative.
ABTA has an opportunity to be a leader and regain its credibility as being the association that protects the customer.
All that ABTA has done with this latest initiative is to put one wheel back on a wheel-less car.

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  • Living on past glories?

    I think it would be helpful to point out that the author's organisation left ABTA and set up a very laudable system of complete financial protection. However, as a Future Travel homeworker (part of the Co-operative Travel) I can often wrestle away a booking from a Travel Counsellor by saying "They are not in ABTA, you know..." Sad though it may seem, public perception is still king. I am willing to bet if you asked a hundred people whether they would rather have an ABTA or an ATOL booking, that the ABTA brand would (incorrectly) win the day!

    By Mike Stones, Monday, September 28, 2009

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