The Vertical Group founder Peter Healey believes ABTA should be disbanded after the trade’s largest bed banks left the association because of its ruling to force it to take liability for bookings.
The group owns accommodation-only provider bedbank.com, which is not an ABTA member, as well as Miss Ellies Travel and homeworking chain Holiday Experts, which fall under Freedom Travel Group’s ABTA membership.
Healey spoke out after news Thomas Cook-owned bed banks hotels4u.com and Med Hotels have quit ABTA following ABTA’s resolution that companies selling via ABTA agents assume liability if the agency collapses, even if they have not been paid by the agent.
Healey claimed ABTA’s latest move to clamp down on bed banks only served to show its “lack of understanding of the real issues in the trade”.
He accused ABTA of “passing the buck” and ducking out of its own responsibilities. “What it is doing is trying to make out the bed banks are the bad guys for offering highly flexible terms,” he said.
Consumers continue to assume any company displaying the ABTA badge carries full financial protection, said Healey. “Consumers will believe they are protected even though it’s not true and on that basis I think ABTA should be disbanded. Every time there is a significant failure ABTA rewrites the rule book to get out of offering any protection. I think ABTA is misleading the market.”
But ABTA chairman John McEwan said the ruling offered consumers more protection than previously. He argued: “This decision was taken by membership and the reason it was taken was to make sure there was a consistent approach and so bed banks within ABTA are regarded as having the same responsibility as ABTA tour operators.”
He added: “The Vertical Group’s bed bank business also does not sit within ABTA.”
Healey does not believe parts of his business such as Miss Ellies Travel and Holiday Experts within The Co-operative Travel Group’s Freedom Travel Group would be adversely affected if ABTA was to be disbanded.
He added. “Arguably, the Co-op has a more trusted brand than any other in the UK, so for us there would be greater clarity if we only had to focus on the Co-op component.”
Meanwhile, other ABTA member bed banks are continuing to review their membership. Somewherestay2 said a decision was “imminent” while Youtravel.com is holding talks with ABTA later today.
McEwan said some ABTA bed banks had already reassured the association they would not leave but said it was up to others to review their decisions.
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