Travel agents have expressed hope that the merger of ABTA and the Federation of Tour Operators will bring change for the better, but there is still a level of scepticism.


The FTO will join ABTA on Tuesday, bringing the major trade bodies together for the first time in 40 years. However, the change is primarily at the top, since most FTO members already belong to ABTA.


Thorpe Travel owner John Garbutt said: “Agents do not have the voice they should have in ABTA. The merger appears to make sense, but I cannot see it making much difference. ABTA should be more proactive for everyone.”


Bailey’s Travel managing director Chris Bailey said: “The FTO may improve things by bringing fresh expertise and economies of scale. I hope they come up with something helpful.”


FTO director-general Andy Cooper, who will retain his existing role and become ABTA head of development, conceded some agent members are dissatisfied.


“ABTA has been criticised for not having its finger on the pulse of members,” he said. “I do not think it has had a clear focus. ABTA should have one objective – that members renew their subscriptions. I do not think ABTA has recognised that and it has led to a general feeling of discontent.”


However, Cooper rejected the accusation that ABTA has too closely reflected the concerns of bigger members.


“To be important, ABTA has to reflect the interests of all members,” he said. “The criticism by the big tour operators has been that ABTA has tended to be the voice of the small guys. It has to represent the sector as a whole.”


ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer agreed: “Perhaps we have not used the brand recognition as much as we could. We will be reiterating the message that the ABTA logo is the kitemark of quality.”