On Thursday 6 June, all ABTA Member head offices were sent an official ballot form from Electoral Reform Services and will have the opportunity to vote in the election of the Association’s next Chairman. The nominees for Chairman are Roger Allard of All Leisure Holidays Ltd and Noel Josephides of Sunvil International Sales Ltd.
Each candidate has set out his personal views on what are the important issues and opportunities for the industry and for ABTA.
The role of Chairman is important so we’d encourage you to register your vote. The deadline for returning your ballot paper is the 28th June.
I have been asked to stand for the ABTA chairman role and it would be a great honour to be elected. If I am selected I can assure you that I will do my utmost to act in the best interests of all members, regardless of business size or model.
To tell you something about me - I’ve been in the travel industry more than forty years, I started with a Saturday job at Vista Tours when I was 14 and worked my way up through every department. In 1973 along with six others we set up Owners Abroad selling air seats to people who owned holiday homes overseas, my specialty was selling blocks of aircraft seats to a myriad of small and midsize tour operators. That company grew through acquisition of smaller tour operators and organic growth, into the UK’s second largest tour operator, post the collapse of ILG and in later years it became First Choice and I stayed there as group managing director until 1993, before leaving to work in aviation charter for a while before acquiring All Leisure in 1997, where I am now executive chairman.
In the last fifteen years All Leisure has grown to include cruise brands Voyages of Discovery, Hebridean Island Cruises and Swan Hellenic and holiday companies Discover Egypt, Page & Moy, Travelsphere and Just You. For the past twelve years I have been a shareholder and Chairman of Light Blue Travel, which specialises in business and retail travel, and is also a small operator.
I was an ABTA director from 2004 to 2007 and have represented ABTA since on the Air Travel Insolvency Protection Advisory Committee (ATIPAC) and the Appeals Committee and I was vice chairman of TOSG (now FTO) for five years until 1993.
I’m also an aviation geek and have worked with the CAA; in 2008 they brought me in to oversee the repatriation of 85,000 people following the collapse of XL Leisure and I was also involved when ILG collapsed, repatriating all of its passengers.
So you can see I have experience of many sectors of the industry – small and large tour operating and cruising - traditional models and online and I’ve had to become very knowledgeable on regulatory matters and legislation. At the time of writing this the DfT has just started the clock for the ‘Call for Evidence’ to evaluate how to change the financial protection of the ATOL system - the government would like to walk away from providing a guarantee to the air travel trust, and leave it to our industry to sort out (more red tape). Also very soon we will have to evaluate a European package directive, so this will probably mean more change. In hindsight perhaps it would have been better reviewing both these issues together.
This could well be the biggest change in the ATOL regulations in its history and I would urge members to read the review carefully and there will no doubt be a lot written about it over the next few months - ABTA has already started with a good piece.
I firmly believe that ABTA needs to represent the interests of the whole membership, large and small tour operators online travel agents, and especially retail agents. I don’t like people breaking away – I want us to stay together and act as one powerful body. I am impressed by Mark Tanzer and the executive team and how they have changed our organization over the last 6 years to be more member and industry focused and run as a proper business; but we need to make sure ABTA is operating efficiently and communicating better with the membership.
I’d like to find a way to bring business costs down for the members too, while maintaining protection for consumers and I want to look at the pointless extra bonding issue (i.e. credit cards) many travel businesses find themselves in. I want to de-burden members where possible and don’t want more bonding charges – if I am elected I would like to reduce members’ operating costs and red tape. We must also look at insurance and examine why costs are going up, while those outside the ATOL scheme seem to benefit from reduced charges. I want there to be more transparency and would like to see the ABTA Executive visiting the regions and encourage regional members to meet face to face with the Executive.
People have been asking me why I want the role of ABTA Chairman. The travel industry has been good to me and I feel I have the knowledge and expertise to benefit the ABTA membership and I’d like to give something back. This is your association and I would like the membership to be proud of being a part of it and move forward together.
Standing as Chairman of ABTA is not a decision to be taken lightly. I am very much aware that, for members large and small, the ABTA symbol represents both respectability and business excellence. Some, mistakenly, regard the attainment of the ABTA badge as an added business burden. Anyone can choose to stand outside the Association but, if ABTA’s logo helps to bring in additional bookings every year, as I believe it does for all sizes of company, then it is worth every penny.
It is my aim to make the consumer the focus of everything that the Association does. If we can satisfy the consumer, and if we make the ABTA symbol synonymous with fair play, reliability, quality of service and financial security, then that will, in turn, safeguard our future within this very competitive and unpredictable industry. ABTA members must understand that their customers are a very precious commodity; ABTA is there to guide us in terms of looking after our clients. I do not accept that ABTA exists solely to protect its members’ interests – the Association has to have two-way vision.
If ABTA can truly promise total financial protection to members’ customers, then think of the potential commercial benefits. We are not there yet – at present, we have a two-tier system. Many principal members financially protect every aspect of their business. However, there are members carrying the ABTA badge which sell accommodation-only without financial protection because there is no legal requirement to do so. Previous Boards have accepted this situation. However, times have changed; it would seriously damage the reputation of the Association were those members to fail. The Board recently decided to look into the benefits both to ABTA and to those members of asking them to protect accommodation-only sales. Yes, it’s an additional burden - but, equally, it’s commercially astute.
We cannot stop there, however. I favour supplier financial failure insurance for retail members who choose to deal with non-ABTA principals such as airlines and accommodation providers. This would benefit all ABTA members – and consumers - at relatively little cost. I will, of course, continue to campaign that airline click-throughs are treated as packages so as to ensure agents are not disadvantaged.
2013 will be yet another year of considerable change for our industry. The Department for Transport has signalled that it wants to review the current ATOL system and its reliance on the Air Travel Trust’s back-up fund. The European Commission is about to publish the updated Package Travel Directive. I do not believe that either the UK Government or the EU Commission intend to make our lives any easier. It is very important, should there be a requirement for a regulatory/monitoring role outside of Government, that it is ABTA that shoulders the task.
Within the Association, we have enormous expertise. I hope that those members, large and small, who have come before the Membership Committee – chaired by me for the past four years - will feel that we have treated them fairly. It is my aim that the Association remains sensitive to the very varied needs of its members.
I sense that many smaller members feel that ABTA does not always speak a language that they understand – that the Association has become, perhaps, too corporate. My aim is to dispel this notion. ABTA has never been in better shape. It is undoubtedly the leading travel association in Europe and is listened to and taken very seriously in all UK and European government circles. To best support the interests of its members, it sometimes needs to use a language which may seem remote from members’ everyday lives.
To those smaller members who worry that the Association no longer caters to their interests, I will be there to translate ABTA’s aims into everyday speak.
To larger members, who think that I focus solely on smaller companies’ interests, please note that I’ve always treated both larger and smaller members fairly in my Membership Committee and ABTA Board roles. After 40 years in travel, I understand the workings of companies of all shapes and sizes.
It has been claimed that I will take the trade back into the dark ages of the 1970s. Far from it! As well as selling traditional packages, my own company has been dynamically packaging since long before the internet existed and makes use of all the latest technology. I encourage innovation - but I want a level playing field, too. SMEs are typically fast on their feet, and running one of the few remaining mid-sized companies gives me a foot in both camps, large and small. My firm belief is that the basic principles of good governance do not change and it is those principles which will ensure a secure future and long-term jobs for all of us.
I hope I can count on your support and vote(s) in what will be a hard-fought election for the ABTA chair.