Spring is here and ABTA is well into its season of regional meetings.
There are 11 regions and each one is visited by two members of the secretariat, usually from the senior management team, and me.
There are a lot of early starts and late nights involved, but the investment is made because the meetings give every single ABTA Member the chance to meet the secretariat, ask burning questions and hear about the latest updates on relevant industry news.
Is it worth it? I have rung and emailed members and it is clear we still have quite a hill to climb with some people because of an outdated perception that these are boring events, best avoided.
The reality, however, is that ABTA’s regional meetings have changed enormously in recent years and are extremely valuable.
A gripe I sometimes hear is that ABTA takes the side of the public against its members, whose interests, many think, should be its exclusive concern. The truth is that ABTA, like every trade organisation, has to fulfil both roles and its strength as a respected trade body comes from this dual approach.
ABTA maintains and enhances the respectability of the travel sector. Yes, it is a regulator – but it is also a friend to the industry.
We do not always get it right but, where we have got it wrong, we certainly listen and we are making real progress, as positive feedback in ABTA’s last member survey showed.
Why do I go to the meetings? I am both a tour operator and a travel agent, so I can empathise with the feelings of many members. While many at head office have years of experience of the industry – some have been tour operators or travel agents themselves – it adds a different perspective to have someone who faces exactly the same day-to-day problems as the membership.
Regulation for instance, I am as confused, worried and angry at the often perplexing regulation that faces the industry as our members.
Attendees at the regional meetings will often voice their concerns at some bureaucratic requirement that adds to their workload. It is my job to ask those questions too, because any additional or unnecessary requirements also affect my own company.
A lot of useful information is exchanged over drinks before and after the meetings. These are social occasions and a networking opportunity – travel agents, tour operators and partners attend.
Attendees are updated on what is happening across the many regulatory fields that the industry spans, and what Abta is doing on members’ behalf to promote the benefits of booking with an ABTA Member.
The really good news is that we are making progress through the regional meetings and attendances are improving.
Don’t miss the opportunity of hearing it from the horse’s mouth, and of adding your personal input, which is invaluable.
This article appeared in Travel Weekly on 29 April 2014.