Published on Friday, September 30, 2011

ABTA accused of misleading customers



A senior industry figure has accused ABTA of deliberately misleading agents and the public about the financial protection it provides to consumers.

Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman said the Association should spell out to members that  not everything they sell is protected.

Earlier this week, consumers' association Which? published a report showing that some agents gave customers booking dynamic packages misleading or inaccurate information about the financial guarantees they offered.

Speakman said it was ABTA's fault for allowing agencies that dynamically package holidays, which are not protected by their ABTA bond, to claim they are "fully-bonded".

“This survey highlights what we have known for a long time – that many ABTA agents don’t actually know what is and isn’t protected for their customers,” said Speakman.

“ABTA have previously failed to warn customers that members no longer financially protect  the customer, not only misleading the press, but also their own agents and consequently the customers of those agents.

"It’s no wonder that most travel agency staff wrongly believe that the ABTA logo provides a guarantee to both themselves and their customers. I think it’s a scandal that innocent agents are misled.

"Even now ABTA issue the wording that must be in adverts without specifically admitting there is no protection from them.”

ABTA this week issued the results of a survey which showed the public have "a good understanding about ABTA's trade association role" and over half view ABTA as "reassuring, safe and reliable".

Travel Counsellors, which has 800 agents in the UK, left ABTA in 2004. Speakman said earlier this year his company found 50 ABTA agents stating they were "fully-bonded" when in fact they weren't.

“In turn we contacted ABTA and they duly agreed to contact members whose statements misled their customers on the level of protection provided.

"However one could argue, especially given the issues raised in the wake of events such as ABTA bedbank HotelConnect which collapsed earlier this year and most recently the results from the Which? report, that this may be a case of ABTA contacting these agents directly rather than policing the whole issue and delivering a clear, public message to their agents and the general public.

"We have even asked ABTA to update its code of conduct so agents do not mislead their customers but the association does not appear to want to clear up this confusion.

“It is not actually the agents fault as it is ABTA who will not admit to the public they no longer protect so the consequence is that this is not clarified for the agent.

"Hence the whole industry is tarred, as reports such as Which? put all agents in a bad light."

A senior industry figure has accused ABTA of deliberately misleading agents and the public about the financial protection it provides to consumers.

Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman said the Association should spell out to members that  not everything they sell is protected.

Earlier this week, consumers' association Which? published a report showing that some agents gave customers booking dynamic packages misleading or inaccurate information about the financial guarantees they offered.

Speakman said it was ABTA's fault for allowing agencies that dynamically package holidays, which are not protected by their ABTA bond, to claim they are "fully-bonded".

“This survey highlights what we have known for a long time – that many ABTA agents don’t actually know what is and isn’t protected for their customers,” said Speakman.

“ABTA have previously failed to warn customers that members no longer financially protect  the customer, not only misleading the press, but also their own agents and consequently the customers of those agents.

"It’s no wonder that most travel agency staff wrongly believe that the ABTA logo provides a guarantee to both themselves and their customers. I think it’s a scandal that innocent agents are misled.

"Even now ABTA issue the wording that must be in adverts without specifically admitting there is no protection from them.”

ABTA this week issued the results of a survey which showed the public have "a good understanding about ABTA's trade association role" and over half view ABTA as "reassuring, safe and reliable".

Travel Counsellors, which has 800 agents in the UK, left ABTA in 2004. Speakman said earlier this year his company found 50 ABTA agents stating they were "fully-bonded" when in fact they weren't.

“In turn we contacted ABTA and they duly agreed to contact members whose statements misled their customers on the level of protection provided.

"However one could argue, especially given the issues raised in the wake of events such as ABTA bedbank HotelConnect which collapsed earlier this year and most recently the results from the Which? report, that this may be a case of ABTA contacting these agents directly rather than policing the whole issue and delivering a clear, public message to their agents and the general public.

"We have even asked ABTA to update its code of conduct so agents do not mislead their customers but the association does not appear to want to clear up this confusion.

“It is not actually the agents fault as it is ABTA who will not admit to the public they no longer protect so the consequence is that this is not clarified for the agent.

"Hence the whole industry is tarred, as reports such as Which? put all agents in a bad light."

ABTA responding, saying that the current system of financial protection was confused and cofusing. "This is why it is so important that the Government get ATOL reform right and in particular they must include airlines within the framework of the scheme which will both extend protection and remove much of the confusion at source," said a spokesman, adding that agents should read the guidance notes on financial protection on abta.com.

By Linsey McNeill

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