ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer is confident changes to the structure of the association, currently being finalised, will win members’ approval.

However, reaction to a leak of the plans suggests he could face an uphill battle.

Former ABTA board member Sandy MacPherson slammed a suggestion that just one independent agent representative might sit on the board as “outrageous”. ABTA Midlands chairman Charles Eftichiou warned of “a feeling among agents that ABTA does not look after them”, and a senior source conceded: “Some will think ABTA is no longer the association for them.”

The suggestion that the association will propose halving the board from 18 to nine is less contentious than the belief that its composition will be radically altered. Currently, agents elect seven members and a further two places are taken by representatives of the Council of Regions, giving retailers half the seats.

A nine-strong board may offer agency members with annual turnover under £50 million just one seat – with the chief executive and president taking two, and two or three seats reserved for representatives of ‘principals’, including airlines.

ABTA is also believed ready to drop its Association of British Travel Agents title in favour of being known by its acronym and to make the post of president elected rather than appointed by the board.

Tanzer has refused to confirm or deny any of this. However, he defended the need for change in the ways outlined. “If you were thinking about the shape of any organisation, you would look at the size and composition of the board and the name. So we are looking at it,” he said.

“The board wants an association that is at the heart of the industry and can speak with one voice. First, we need a structure that can accommodate different types of people. Second, we need to be able to respond to issues that come up between board meetings.”

Tanzer refuted the suggestion that agents would be left unrepresented but still foot ABTA’s bills. “All members will be represented in the new structure – including independents who are the bulk of our members. We would be mad to put a proposal that their voice did not matter.

“People shouldn’t think the board is the only thing that counts. It is just one component of our governance mechanisms, along with working groups and standing committees.”

However, the Council of Regions appears destined to disappear, with ABTA withdrawing funding for regional meetings this month in favour of a series of roadshows.

Of the other likely proposals, Tanzer suggested an elected president “has a kind of appeal”.

The concern is that independents will struggle to be heard, like corner shops in a food industry association alongside Tesco. Independents surely need a trade body to give them a collective voice and the organisation to back it up.

The extent to which other sectors want ABTA to represent them is unclear. On Holiday Group chief executive Steve Endacott expressed the view of many providers when he said: “Independents will be represented less because they are not as important any more.”

Yet the level of support among major tour operators is debatable. None would object to cutting the size of the board, but a source at one of the big groups suggested ABTA should concentrate on representing agents and steer clear of Federation of Tour Operators‘ territory.

Clearly the industry requires a single voice to lobby the government on Air Passenger Duty, but it is largely united on this issue anyway. On other questions there is often fundamental disagreement. TUI takes a different stance on fuel supplements to its rivals, for example, and British Airways and BMI have differing views on access to US routes from Heathrow.

Details of the proposals will be available in the next two months. The question is whether agents believe the changes will give them enough of a voice to ensure ABTA remains their association.