Agents in Northern Ireland are trialling an online chatroom that may be rolled out to all ABTA UK members if it’s successful.

Northern Ireland regional chairwoman Doreen McKenzie said early feedback from members had been encouraging since the pilot project launched earlier this month.

“At the council of regions meeting this month, two members told me they’d never attended a regional meeting before, yet they were the first two people to make chatroom comments so that’s encouraging,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie said the chatroom idea came from ABTA head of communications Keith Betton.

“At first I thought chatrooms were something kids do after school but now I can see the potential for members to discuss issues between themselves in a trade-only environment,” she said.

President Martin Wellings wants ABTA to offer all of its members regional chatrooms by the beginning of 2006, following several months’ trial in Northern Ireland.

Wellings said it may help ABTA improve its image in the minds of some members who question the value of the association.

He added: “The public’s perception of ABTA being a good body is different to the views of some of the members.”

Last spring, Wellings launched his own direct link with members, called Ask the President, whereby agents e-mail him questions and comments, which he then responds to. So far, Wellings said he has received fewer than 100 e-mails from agents and is planning to send out a reminder e-mail to all members in coming weeks.