The success of Travel Weekly’s dynamic packaging roadshows last month revealed the enthusiasm agents up and down the country have for packaging up their own deals from separate components.
However, an important knowledge gap emerged around the issue of liability and in particular who is responsible when something goes wrong. Agents are unsure whether it is the agent or the principal supplier like the airline or hotel.
This issue was again highlighted by this week’s Panorama programme which looked into the deaths of Christianne Shepherd and her brother Robert who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a holiday bungalow at the Corcyra Hotel, Corfu, last October.
The programme itself was very moving and highly critical of Thomas Cook – which has gone to Ofcom with what it claims are inaccuracies in the film – but it failed to put consumers in the picture regarding the health and safety risks of travelling abroad.
The fact is that Thomas Cook, along with other members of the Federation of Tour Operators, is attempting to raise health and safety standards through audits. These companies also ensure that they carry the cost of bonding and liability. In short, these companies have put in steps to protect their customers because they want to protect them.
The wider problem lies with suppliers that are playing outside of these rules that do not offer protection against liability. Something the Triton agency consortium has acknowledged with its hard line on accommodation-only suppliers. Not only are consumers exposing themselves to health and safety risks but agents are exposing themselves to being liable if something goes wrong.
It is critically important that agents understand where they stand on liability when they package up holidays. By being clear on this, they can then package up holidays in confidence and they can be transparent with their clients.
What customers buying holidays from travel agents want is relatively straightforward – accommodation that is safe and cover if something goes wrong. Is that too much to ask?
Despite the dissent, ABTA members have endorsed the changes in its constitution driven by chief executive Mark Tanzer. The promise is a more agile organisation that can better respond to the needs of an increasingly diverse membership. A priority is to strengthen its position as a lobbying force – something travel desperately needs.
Now it’s over to ABTA to show what it can do.
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