Association of Independent Tour Operators Specialist Travel Agents’ members could face being thrown out of the association if they fail to attend one of its two annual conferences.

During a debate at the association’s overseas conference in Seville last weekend, Spears Travel managing director Peter Cookson said: “As a commitment to being a member, each one should attend at least one conference, preferably both. We all benefit from it.”

A straw poll of delegates by Travel Weekly found 80% agreed with the proposal.

AITO specialist travel agents chairman Barry Moxley said agents who fail to attend either the overseas conference or the domestic one were missing out, but he refused to back calls to make it compulsory.

He said: “Around a quarter of the members representing a third of all the branches have attended, which is still a good number and allows us to have a meaningful discussion.

“We shouldn’t make attendance mandatory but we should make it attractive. If we can demonstrate there is meaningful value for those who attend, we won’t have to make it compulsory.”

Moxley said staffing issues were the key reason given for agents’ lack of attendance.

He added a possible merger of the AITO agents overseas conference and operators conference to drive attendance had been discussed but nothing had been agreed.

However, the proposal proved unpopular with headline sponsor Classic Collection Holidays head of marketing Vanda Bauer, who said: “It would be trying to be so many things to so many different people, I’m not sure we’d be a headline sponsor.”

Moxley also said this year’s AITO operators overseas conference will take place from November 22-25 but is yet to announce the venue.