20 Nov

Handling customer disputes – best practice for the travel industry 

Author: Gregory Hunt, Managing Director, Hunt ADR

Disputes are not something you will experience every day, but when they do happen you need to make sure you resolve them quickly and with as little disruption to your business as possible. In this article, Hunt ADR’s Managing Director, Gregory Hunt looks at some of the options you have when you can’t resolve a dispute with a holidaymaker.

Check your contract

As an ABTA Member your contract, contained in the holiday brochure (whether on or offline), outlines the agreement you have with the holidaymaker on the use of arbitration if a dispute is unresolved. You need to check it and see what it says you need to do in the event of a dispute.  A robust contract drafted properly should lay out what to do and will often start by advising you to negotiate with the right person in the other party, before escalating to conciliation, arbitration or the courts.

Don’t underestimate the importance of negotiation

Businesses often don’t try to negotiate, or they think that to negotiation shows weakness or means that you need to be aggressive and immediately fall out with the other party. It doesn’t have to be that way,  and done properly between the right people can prevent the dispute from escalating out of control. Far too often, by the time a dispute comes to us, the travel company’s senior management or legal team are often left wondering how things had got this far and the case settles. It’s often the first time they have been made aware of the real issues at play and are amazed that they weren’t discovered earlier.


Conciliation (also known as mediation) is an excellent tool to resolve conflict before it escalates further. ABTA’s Customer Support Team offer informal conciliation which you can offer to the holidaymaker at short notice. ABTA’s team will help you and the holidaymaker to try and resolve the dispute before it goes further. If this doesn’t work Hunt ADR offer telephone conciliation which can be used voluntarily for personal injury and illness cases. It has a success rate of more than 90%. The conciliator doesn’t make a decision, he or she helps facilitate a resolution that you can both live with. This makes conciliation all about compromise and seeing the bigger picture, taking steps to avoid the dangerous financial and reputational pitfalls of litigation. Conciliation is confidential and without prejudice, meaning that the dispute isn’t played out live in court and any offers or documents referred to at conciliation cannot be used at arbitration or court at a later date if the dispute doesn’t settle. 


Arbitration is also a great way for you to resolve disputes, and more formal than conciliation. In arbitration, an arbitrator is appointed to make a decision which becomes legally binding with very strict rules in terms of appealing the arbitrator’s decision. As arbitration can be set up more quickly than going to court, and because it is private, it carries many of the same benefits of conciliation in that it can help save money, time and protects business’ interests. You will get a decision which is automatically binding in the court and in more than 140 countries signed to the New York Convention.

Going to court

Going to court is the nuclear option. Don’t make the mistake of going straight to court. Speak to ABTA’s Customer Support Team and ask about alternatives like conciliation and arbitration.

You can join Gregory and others at ABTA’s Practical Guide to Arbitration and Conciliation workshop on 4 December in central London. You will receive detailed and practical guidance on how to resolve disputes with holidaymakers using arbitration and conciliation services. This will include a mock conciliation demonstration and a session with an arbitrator.

For further details, to view the agenda and book your place please visit abta.com/abtaevents