Of the many people I have got to know well in the travel industry, it’s a fair bet none would describe me as anything like a character from a classic English novel.


No, the stress of writing this column hasn’t tipped me over the edge. And no, I’m not about to start flouncing about like Keira Knightley.
 
But I do have an admission – I’m starting to feel a bit like Jane Eyre. You see, the trade has a nasty secret almost as shameful as having a mad relative locked up in the attic.


Despite efforts to drive up standards, many retailers do not understand the potential consequences of dealing with non-principal bed banks.


Without doubt, there has been a huge amount of entrepreneurship in the accommodation-only sector in recent years, and the way a retailer sells has changed beyond recognition. This change has enabled retailers to sell with an improved margin – but it has also created a minefield.


Non-principal bed banks act as agents for properties they feature and may accept no liability in the event of any default in the supply chain. Instead, the risk may fall on the retailer. Selling from traditional operators and principal bed banks negates this risk.


When dealing with bed banks there are several issues to bear in mind – payment terms, financial viability, indemnity, product and public liability insurance, excess, emergency service, health and safety policy and what audit process is in place. It’s also vital clients have access to the correct documentation. All retailers have a responsibility to ensure they understand the consequences of their actions.


It’s not a one-way street, though. It’s about time bed banks brought some clarity to this complex issue. Often their terms and conditions are long, erroneous, and appear to be designed so firms can wriggle out of their moral duty. Is that really the image we want to project as an industry?


The fact we have not had a legal test case has meant travel agents have been able to turn a blind eye to the serious implications if found liable for selling a holiday not fit for purpose.


Agents need to ask themselves whether they would (or could) honestly explain to a client the level of protection their chosen bed bank offers.


Like electricians or mechanics, you only want to recommend one that cares for customers and does the job correctly. The tragedy of being locked up isn’t worth the risk.