22 Jun

Meet the team - Andy Cooper, Chair of ABTA’s Code of Conduct Committee

The following article was originally published in the June 2022 edition of ABTA Magazine here.

We spoke to Andy Cooper, Chair of ABTA’s Code of Conduct Committee, about how the Code of Conduct is enforced and maintained at ABTA.

I’ve been the chair of ABTA’s code of conduct committee off and on since 2000. I’ve probably been the most regular member of ABTA’s Code of Conduct Committee throughout that period.

When travel businesses join ABTA, they agree to comply by the Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct makes sure that ABTA members behave responsibly towards each other and towards their customers. There are a set of rules for this, and the Code of Conduct Committee polices those rules.

If an ABTA member breaches the rules under the Code of Conduct, they may be subject to sanctions.

Generally, ABTA becomes aware of potential breaches of the Code of Conduct when another member or a customer highlights problems or issues with a booking.

If the legal department thinks that an issue appears to be a breach of the Code of Conduct, they can investigate that breach. They have a team that carries out investigations of potential breaches of the code.

Depending on the seriousness of the breach, the legal department can impose penalties, like a fixed penalty fine, or refer the matter onto Code of Conduct Committee if their own sanctions are insufficient.

Most matters that come before the Committee are more serious, like if a travel business is really short staffed in customer service and is falling apart in terms of customer complaints. We’re the tribunal of last resort, when behaviour gets particularly bad.

We’re presented with a case by the member of the team, explaining why ABTA believes it’s a breach. Then the committee will look at the Code of Conduct, investigate, and make a decision regarding the member’s behaviour.

We can take various steps to stop that behaviour happening again, ranging from warnings and fines, to asking for undertakings to behave differently, and very occasionally, more serious penalties.

The cases we deal with are things like ABTA members not making a booking properly – such as selling flights without necessarily having bought them beforehand – or cancelling holidays and changing travel arrangements very late.

Over the last couple of years, the legal department has taken a light-touch approach to enforcement, as ABTA members have had enough on their plate just surviving. But it’s likely we’ll see a few more cases coming our way now. There was a recent reminder to members that the Code of Conduct will be more enforced now that we’re out of the worst of the pandemic.

There aren’t a massive number of cases these days – I believe the travel industry has started collectively behaving better. We’ve only had two or three meetings in the last year, and when we first started there were Code Committee meetings most months.

I think that’s because the sanctions for misbehaviour generally are tougher than they were. And if a travel business gives a customer a bad experience, not only will the customer complain directly, they’ll also post on Twitter, Facebook, any social media platform they can get their hands on. The reputational damage is immediate and much worse nowadays.

As we come out of the pandemic, the successful travel businesses will be those that recognise the importance of looking after their customers. That means we won’t be seeing them at the Code of Conduct Committee – which is good for all of us.