The race for the ABTA chairmanship is being seen as the battle of the small independent retailer versus the industry boss, say travel industry insiders.

For the first time, members can have their say, by voting for either Peterborough-based Britaly Travel director Daniele Broccoli, or Advantage chief executive John McEwan.

The election, which will see the two go head to head until voting closes on June 10, is provoking strong views in the industry. Top industry figures have spoken out in favour of which candidate they believe will help restore members’ waning faith in the association.

Read more on the fight for the ABTA chairmanshipIndustry sources say a large number of Worldchoice and Independent Options members will lend Broccoli their support, while McEwan has won the backing of larger operators, including Cosmos, TUI Travel UK and Virgin Holidays.

Sunvil director Noel Josephides, who nominated Broccoli for the role, said it was vital that a small retailer heads up the association.

“There are enough people who represent big companies on the board. It is the grass-roots agents who really bring ABTA to life.

“We need a small player who understands what it is like to worry about the next £5 or £10,” he said. “It is very important the voice of the small agent is heard; we can’t afford to lose the contest.”

Ashley Adams director Steve Riley, who is a Worldchoice regional chairman, said the time was right for a small retailer to take charge.

“The feeling among members is that ABTA has lost sight of its goals, and needs a fresh, independent mind to set it straight. It’s about time a small retailer had the chance to head up ABTA,” he said.

“It is a fair process: it is one member, one vote. There are two candidates…with very different backgrounds”

Support for McEwan was issued by operators this week. Virgin Holidays sales and marketing director Stewart Baird said McEwan had “breadth of experience across all elements of our industry”.

Cosmos managing director Stuart Jackson added: “Our industry is facing incredible challenges, and it is more important than ever that we have the right person in place who really understands the needs of our diverse membership – someone who has worked in numerous roles, with a broad experience across the agent and operator sector and beyond.”

Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman said his company would consider whether to rejoin ABTA if McEwan – who he believes, as Advantage chief executive, would automatically represent the voice of independent agents – was elected.

Speakman refuted claims that McEwan would represent only the larger members. “I don’t understand why it is automatically assumed that he is going to support big operators, to the detriment of agents.”

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer urged all members to vote. “If you’re going to have an election, I think it is good that members get involved in it,” he said.

“It is a fair process: it is one member, one vote. There are two candidates – both of whom are good – with very different backgrounds. I invite the members to decide.”