Martin Couzins, managing editor, Travel WeeklyNext Tuesday the travel industry will have a stronger trade association following the merger of ABTA and the Federation of Tour Operators.

And about time, many would say. A merger has under discussion since 2005.

When ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer talked to Travel Weekly after one year in office in August 2006, he said: “There is definitely logic in an ABTA/FTO merger. The economics of having two sets of subscriptions does not make sense.”

Logic has prevailed and FTO members will no longer have to pay two sets of subs. And let’s make no bones about this – the decision is primarily a financial one (see Ian Taylor’s analysis of what the move means for the trade).
FTO members did not want to pay two lots of subs and ABTA needed FTO members – most of whom are in the association anyway – to stay members of ABTA. Without them, ABTA would have been a weaker organisation both financially and in terms of industry representation.

There will be other benefits of merging. ABTA will gain from the FTO’s expertise in health and safety, crisis management and responsible tourism.

But there is still work for ABTA to do. Some members remain sceptical of the benefits of membership. While the big tour operators no longer have to pay two sets of subs, the grass roots agent members are seeing the minimum subscription rate rise by 39%.

For smaller businesses this means forking out an extra £200 a year.

While FTO members have benefited from the financial logic of the merger, agent members will be left scratching their heads as to the financial logic for them.

As Thorpe Travel owner John Garbutt said: “We know everything is going up, but agents get the short end of the stick. I would like to see more for my money.”

Tanzer’s priority for the newly merged organisation will be to demonstrate how ABTA membership can truly benefit all members, from top to bottom.