Q. You’ve been in place a year now. How’s it been for you?
A. It’s gone very well. I came in at a time when there was a hell of a lot of change happening and ABTA was at the centre of that, especially with the financial protection issue. ABTA has been bold, recognising the current situation is not sustainable. It has been a year in which we have led what is happening in the industry. My task was to shape ABTA towards the way it’s going to be in the future – we have started to do that.
Q. How does ABTA plan to clear up the confusion that exists about consumer protection?
A. It’s becoming clearer what protection ABTA offers. We have started to work with the insurance industry to provide new products. We will be looking to come up with more innovative insurance policies so there is a portfolio of ABTA products. But we have still got a way to go. The confusion, unfairness and imbalance is still there. More people will continue travelling without protection but we will continue to try to get at least an equal basis of competition for those providing it.
Q. Is there anything you haven’t been able to do this year that you had hoped to achieve?
A. There is definitely logic in an ABTA/Federation of Tour Operators merger. The economics of having two sets of subscriptions does not make sense. We want one very strong lobbying voice – which, in time, will happen. At the moment we are not having any discussions, but it is something that shall be pursued in the future. Our positions on the £1 levy were identical and the equalisation and simplification of financial protection will be something that we lobby for increasingly as one entity.
Q. You have said that one of your main aims is to expand ABTA’s membership. Are you happy with the results so far?
A. Renewals are very high this year and we have also gained new members. Considering the pressure the industry is under – in terms of people either selling businesses or closing up shop – we are very pleased with the renewals that we’ve had. What drives numbers down is not people deciding ABTA membership is not worth it, but because they are consolidating their businesses. Discussions are underway with online firms such as Lastminute.com, which has divisions that are already members. It’s a technical issue about how, corporately, we recognise they are major players.
Q. What are your main challenges for the coming year?
A. We will continue reshaping ABTA, building on its strengths and bringing in new ideas which later this year will be marketed to members. We will be looking to do more in some areas and less in others. It’s absolutely critical we get a clear position on environmental issues – it’s not just about the industry recognising there is an issue, but people seeing there is already a lot being done in this area. What we do not want is a blunt fiscal solution, [such as a green tax on flying]. In tough trading conditions that is the last thing we want.
Q. Can you expand on what you mean by doing more in some areas and less in others?
A. I’m very conscious that our members, from the biggest to the smallest, are under acute cost pressures – we need to be sensitive to that and run ourselves efficiently. One area we are looking to outsource is the administration of claims – it’s a job that needs to be done, but do we need to do it? Through its marketing, ABTA has to constantly emphasise to its members the reasons why it’s worth the subscription. We want to strengthen our lobbying resources, particularly on a European level. Members have also told us they want us to provide Health and Safety expertise. Internally, we are reorganising and putting more focus on member services to make sure we are doing what they want and raising service standards.
Q. Have you enjoyed your first year in charge?
A. It’s been better than I expected. The support for ABTA to change and adapt has been very strong from the board and members. I have been to many regional meetings and, whatever people think about some of the changes we are making, they accept ABTA has to adapt.
Q. When do you feel your job will be done?
A. I came in to run the organisation. There is plenty in the short and medium-term to keep me busy. I’ve not given any thought as to what comes next, the in-tray is quite full.