ABTA members remain confused over the organisation’s proposal on bed bank liability, despite this week’s clarification.
Trade organisations said ABTA’s clarification had helped, but admitted they were still spending a considerable amount of time explaining the proposal to members and clients.
Under the proposal ABTA would force bed banks to assume liability when a travel agency fails, even if the agent has not paid the customers’ money.
ABTA members will have an opportunity to vote on the proposal at a specially convened annual general meeting on October 2.
Worldchoice chairman Colin Heal said he had received scores of calls from members because of a general lack of understanding of the proposal.
He said: “At the moment there seems to be quite different views among members on the proposal because they don’t totally understand it all. I have attempted to help members.
“While it is my job to clarify the issues, it’s not my job to tell them which way to vote.”
Specialist travel law firm Travlaw has also received calls from confused clients, ranging from operators and bed banks to agents.
Partner Sarah Lacy said the wording of the written proposal was open to misinterpretation. She was concerned that it could be misinterpreted by lawyers.
“I think the clarification has helped but the wording does not mention bed banks. I have spoken to ABTA and said it could mean lots of [different types of] organisers. If it’s not in the articles of association, the language could be interpreted in another way.”
She added that the confusion could affect voting. “People will either be scared off or will vote for it because it’s ABTA and they think it knows what it is doing,” she said. “But if they are not understanding the implications of what they are voting for, they could come to regret that in future.”
Clients have raised concerns that ABTA’s limit for compensation to bed banks for customers’ money in the event of an agent failure is not high enough and could result in higher bonding requirements for existing members, she said.
ABTA admitted it had had calls from agents who did not fully understand the proposal’s implications. A spokeswoman said members should ring up the information team if they needed any points clarified.
Meanwhile, bed banks have now said agents should be responsible for keeping customer money secure.
Paul Riches, sales and marketing director at ABTA bed bank Youtravel.com, said the focus should be on agents ensuring customers’ money is secure rather than pointing the finger of blame at bed banks.
“The focus should be on the moment the customer parts with the money,” he said.
Steve Endacott, founder of non-ABTA bed bank Holiday Brokers, agreed: “Given ABTA’s desire to make sure customer money is protected when held by its members, I fail to understand why it is not insisting that all members put customer money in trust funds or pay the supplier when they collect the money from customers. In general bed banks would support both moves.”
He added: “We will not simply roll over and incur costs that should rightly sit with ABTA or its members.”
Meanwhile, Global Travel Group admitted to a “handful” of enquiries from agents interested in leaving ABTA following the proposal. General manager Dave Clayton said: “We have had more than the normal number of enquiries from ABTA members since this came out.”
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