23 May

Opinion: The industry should be proud of ABTA

As ABTA’ s Chairman election gets into swing we find ourselves, naturally, at the centre of attention.

I welcome this. We’re a members’ organisation, accountable to members, and that’s why we introduced the election process to give Members a say. Of course, as in any other election, the serious debate can be obscured by grandstanding and bluster, so it’s worth just setting a few facts straight.

Financial protection

ABTA’s role at the heart of financial protection is always under scrutiny – Do we really protect consumers? Should we be doing it at all? Can you be a ‘regulator’ and a trade association? Well, yes we do protect consumers: we currently protect over £3bn of non-flight packages and single element sales, making us, alongside the CAA, the main pillars of financial protection in UK travel.

We also protect the money that is due from ABTA retailers to ABTA principals, so that if a retailer fails, the principals can fulfil the consumers’ holidays safe in the knowledge that they’ll be paid. But it’s not just financial protection that ABTA offers the consumer – we also provide assurance that they’re dealing with bona fide companies, backed by a Code of Conduct.

We turn down more companies for Membership than we let in, because we keep standards high. The consumer confidence that this protection encourages has given ABTA a 78% spontaneous and favourable recognition from the public, and, far from being in decline, ABTA has been named a Superbrand for the sixth consecutive year. This matters, not because of corporate ego, but because it drives business to our Members and gets us heard among policymakers in Westminster and Brussels.

So, far from the roles of regulator and trade association being in conflict, through the power of our brand they are mutually reinforcing.

The industry built ABTA

The ABTA Board currently comprises two tour operators, three travel agents, two mixed operator/travel agents and two non-travel directors. And me. Any decision we make is based on consultation with Members.

Of course, there will be differences of opinion among different business models.  This was the case with the Flight Plus ATOL, and the same will be true as we steer through proposed revisions to the Package Travel Directive.

It’s a fact that a position that is in the interests of the Membership as a whole may not suit every Member, so it is natural that voices speak out  in defence of a particular interest. It is ABTA’s role to steer through this, and no-one is in a better position to do so.

Which brings me back to ABTA’s role of ‘regulator’. Far better, in my view, that we ‘self-regulate’ than have an external body as regulator. When a consumer protection scandal emerges in other sectors (think insurance mis-selling, or more recently, cosmetic surgery) commentators say ‘what’s needed is an ABTA-style protection scheme’. The travel industry built ABTA, and the travel industry should be proud of it.

Mark's comment was published by Travel Weekly.