LAST Week Travel Weekly called on new
ABTA president John Harding to fight the trade’s corner, following the growing
number of articles in the consumer press pushing DIY holidays.

 

We asked him for:

 

1.       A “massive
consumer campaign” outlining the risks involved in self-packaging and the
benefits of booking with a bonded travel agent and tour operator.

2.       We also called
on Harding to sort out this “bonding nonsense” and for a level playing field so
the trade can compete with the low-cost carriers and the DIY brigade.

3.       We demanded
a Football Association-style charge of bringing the trade into disrepute. If a
company talks down the long-term prospects of another in the consumer press,
ABTA should hold them to account for the damage they are doing to the rest of
us.

4.       We also
called on Harding to tell the trade what happens to the ABTA Benevolent Fund.

5.       Finally, we
called on Harding to make ABTA more representative of the whole industry. We
called for a “modern organisation”, not an “old boys’ club”.

 

 

This is Harding’s reply…

 

 

1.      
Like so many of our members, I am acutely aware of the
effect that no frills carriers are having on the package holiday market.  ABTA continually highlights the risks of self-packaging
in our consumer press releases and will continue to do so.  We recognise the fundamental importance of
the package holiday sector to the trade and will fight tooth and nail to
promote the benefits to the consumer. 
The latest advertising campaign – “Without us you’re on your own” – says
precisely this.

 

2.      
I agree wholeheartedly and one of my main platforms for
election was the need to establish a level playing field.  The Board will continue to pursue this as a
key objective

 

3.      
The Code of Conduct already seems to cover this under
Section 1.1 (ii) and states “Members shall not conduct their business in a
manner which does not maintain or enhance the reputation, standing and good
name of the Association and its membership”. 
The Board will consider if any further strengthening is needed.

 

4.      
The ABTA Benevolent Fund is a registered charity and
provides an annual report and financial statement.  By its very nature the details of the individual cases are
confidential.  In 2002 the trustees
sanctioned grants and loans totalling £16,257. 
Income comes from the interest on the value of the fund and regular
contributions from trade events including regional meetings.  We urge members to contact David Parish at
ABTA should they know of anyone in need, as we want to help.

 

5.      
Once again I concur with your view that ABTA needs to
represent the industry.  The recent
restructuring gave us a much more representative board with 18 members  (nine retailers and nine principals)
compared to the old one of 10.  In
addition the Council of Regions is representative of the full spectrum of
retail membership and has two of the nine retail seats on the board.

 

Over the past few years we have
created a very successful Travel Industry Partners Scheme that allows companies
outside the Association access and involvement with ABTA on many levels.  Currently membership stands at 156
companies.

 

Also at World Travel Market we set
up the International Associates scheme whereby overseas companies can affiliate
themselves to ABTA.

 

My personal view is that we should
be looking to establish the ABTA Convention as the true travel industry event
of the year – recent past conventions have moved this closer and I see further
developments to this end in the near future.

 

As a seasoned campaigner with
recent Midconsort, Advantage and Worldchoice conferences, these events address
the real commercial concerns of retailer and principals and allow excellent
networking opportunities for both sides.

 

Real industry issues are more
properly addressed at the ABTA Convention for the benefit of all.

 

 

I come to the Presidency at a time when terrorism and
tourism are inevitably entwined with a number of countries being placed on
alert and holidaymakers’ plans are being changed.  This is an important area where ABTA can help its members with
regular updates and advice on the legal implications of these changes.  I think it’s important that the association
is in the forefront of both helping members and reassuring their customers so
that they can have the confidence to travel.

 

I cannot promise to lead you into a “glorious future” but I
can assure you that I will work hard for the membership to compete on a level
playing field where the package holiday is seen to offer real value for money
and the consumer has real confidence in booking with an ABTA member.