Agents have accused Abta of allowing Super Break to include “misleading” information in brochures which suggested hotel-only bookings were protected.
Super Break parent company Malvern Group went into administration on Thursday, alongside Malvern’s online hotel brand LateRooms.com.
Abta immediately issued advice for agents and customers and confirmed all flight-based package bookings were protected – but that hotel-only bookings were not. It said Super Break chose not to protect its hotel-only deals and says its website is “very clear” that not all sales are protected.
But this has come as a surprise to agents who claim Abta’s logo was prominent in Super Break brochures, such as UK and London Short Breaks, which include hotel-only offers.
Simon Morgan, chief executive of Tailor Made Travel, said the agency had £90,000 worth of Super Break bookings, with £20,000 of that due to travel in the next eight weeks with balances paid. He expects to lose money on all accommodation-only bookings with paid balances.
Morgan said: “If you pick up a brochure which says Abta all over you feel like you are doing the right thing [for your customers]. We know now that accommodation-only bookings are not protected, but that wasn’t clear. I thought that was what Abta bonds were for.
“If as a business I figured I was buying a non-protected product from a company that’s supposed to be a member of Abta I might reconsider what my Abta bonds are for. Abta need to be taken to task about this.”
Peter Cookson, group managing director of Spear Travels, said: “Abta has a lot to answer for. Did they ‘choose’ not to tell their members that Super Break ‘chose’ not to cover UK hotel bookings? Apparently they did.
“Would any Abta member have booked with Super Break if they had known that the hotel bookings were not covered? No, they wouldn’t. It’s commercial suicide. Abta are culpable in this.”
Graeme Brett, of South Shields-based Westoe Travel, said: “Abta is saying that Super Break chose only to protect packages, but that was never made clear by Super Break. Certainly when we were on hold the recorded message says clearly that we would be covered.
“But my understanding is that any Abta member operator has to send its brochures to Abta to check. Either they haven’t or Abta hasn’t checked them properly. Super Break has made a big play about being an Abta member and, by letting this through, Abta has allowed them to mislead customers and the travel industry.”
Westoe Travel had 133 forward bookings. Brett believes 123 are protected, but 10 remain “unclear”.
Morgan called for more clarity from Abta about the scope of its protection.
He added: “This has opened up a huge can of worms. The long and short of it is that Abta will only cover packages but they are not actually issuing any guidelines as to what a package is.”
Tailor Made Travel’s chief operations officer is to run a review of the 18-branch agency’s entire supply chain in response.
Morgan added: “We need to know what’s protected. A hotel and a theatre ticket? A hotel and a rail ticket? Hotel and breakfast? It also begs the question of what else is protected. What about an ex-UK cruise? What if I have 10,000 hotel-only rooms booked with dnata in Dubai? Are they covered?”
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, said: “Abta says accommodation only bookings were not bonded, so who pays? If the booking was through a travel agent and the customer makes a claim against the credit card they paid with, it will be the agents bank account that suffers.
“Perhaps it is time for Abta to review, or at least make clear, which businesses operate this way so that agents can make an informed choice on who to book with?”
An Abta spokeswoman said: “Abta has not required accommodation only sales to be protected for over ten years now. There is no legal requirement to protect accommodation-only or other types of single element bookings (such as airline tickets), this is an entirely commercial decision for a business to enter into additional protection arrangements.
“We make it very clear on our website, in our materials and other communications that not all sales are protected. We also have a programme of proactively monitoring member websites, and in particular statements about financial protection, and will investigate any complaints about brochures and websites if it is alleged that they are misleading.
“It should never be assumed that accommodation-only bookings are financially protected. All accommodation-only bookings, booked either directly with a hotel or through intermediaries, are generally unprotected apart from where the customer paid by credit or debit card. If in doubt agents should ask the company they are booking with directly before proceeding.”