ABTA has
criticised Travelcare’s latest Holiday Report for encouraging negative coverage
of the trade.

The 2003 survey, the fourth in the annual series, found
fault with the big four for directional selling and “hoodwinking”
customers into paying more for their holiday.

Newman
Street said the issue had already been dealt with by the Government in 2000
when retailers were told to show ownership details in stores.

An ABTA
spokeswoman said the report was “not unbiased” and consumer press
coverage referring to high-street chains had not clearly distinguished between
independents and vertically integrated groups.

“This
is tarring the whole industry with the same brush. Travelcare may find the aims
of its PR strategy are not being met,” she said.

MyTravel
UK and Ireland chief executive Duncan Wilson said it was in the interests of
vertically integrated operators to sell their own products, but added:
“Our policy is to sell a wide spectrum of products to the customer.”

First
Choice managing director UK distribution John Wimbleton agreed companies would
not survive if they sold in a biased way. “You will only succeed as a
retailer if you offer honest advice,” he said.

TUI UK
claimed the report was “not a representative survey” and asked
whether Travelcare would be prepared to tell customers about the incentives it
receives from operators, particularly following the creation of the
Co-operative Travel Trading Group, which was set up to negotiate better terms
with operators.

Thomas
Cook director of trade relations Ian Derbyshire said in the first week of June,
53% of its late sales were non-Thomas Cook products. “You don’t stay
around for 160 years if you don’t offer your customers choice,” he added.

Travelcare
general manager Amanda Williams said the retailer was pressing the Government
for action. “We are not saying the practices of the big agents are wrong,
we are calling for staff in agencies to explain to customers they will try to
sell their own holidays first.”