Full-service agents have backed calls for suppliers to offer reduced commercial terms to rivals that don’t carry the cost of bonding – but unbonded agents and some luxury operators have defended their model.

Designer Travel managing director Amanda Matthews last week led calls for a “fairer” approach from suppliers, arguing that non-bonded agents often receive identical terms and rewards without offering the same levels of protection or experience.

Her views have been backed by a number of full-service agents on Travelweekly.co.uk and social media, with some claiming the current situation was “grossly unfair” and also created uncertainty for customers.

However, non-bonded agents, many of whom work in the luxury sector, this week defended their business models and customer service, insisting their approach is “a different way of working” which could be likened to acting as brokers.

Jeanne Lally, joint managing director of Travel Bureau, said she planned to quiz supplier partners to ascertain if fully bonded agencies like her own were losing out by incurring bonding costs.

Meanwhile, Holiday Village agent Martin Sandland-Owens said: “It’s time the industry and suppliers backed agents who comply with strict Abta, Atol and PTR rules.”

Unbonded agents are not members of Abta or an agency consortium or trust fund. They introduce clients to Atol-bonded operators, which take direct bookings before paying the agent a commission or referral fee.

Those who spoke to Travel Weekly insisted they work as hard as bonded agents to give clients the best professional service and were on call 24/7 for clients.

One, who has worked in the industry for a decade, said: “The criticism is a little unfair. I have very good relationships with my clients and suppliers. The way I have set up my business works. My clients are very happy and they are protected [by operators’ Atols].

“Suppliers are happy to work with me. I’m not making high-volume bookings – I’m focused on high-net-worth [individuals] only.”

Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni owner Der Touristik, said the operator had established relationships with a small number of unbonded agents but these were counted as “direct business”, adding: “We pay them less.”

Another luxury operator, who did not want to be identified, added: “The unbonded agents I deal with are some of the most incredible travel professionals.
“They are brokers but no different to any agent. The only difference is a bonded agent is holding the money.”

What’s your view of unbonded agents?

Travel Weekly conducted a poll to find out what readers thought about suppliers working with non-bonded agents. It found:

59% said they think suppliers should not work with unbonded agents

29% said they should be categorised differently, eg as ‘referral agents’ or brokers

12% said they should receive less commission

In total 90 people took part in the survey.

What do you think? Email your views to juliet.dennis@travelweekly.co.uk

More: Agents hit out at suppliers rewarding non-bonded agents