US homeworking group InteleTravel has been granted membership of Abta.
InteleTravel gives recruits, who are not required to have travel industry experience, the chance to be agents “full-time, part-time or as a hobby”.
It is now bonded as a retail travel agency in the UK having met Abta’s financial and regulatory criteria following a two-year application process.
The company – now with a UK-registered business – is also seeking an Atol, for which negotiations are ongoing, but will not pursue a dynamic packaging model.
InteleTravel already has about 1,800 UK homeworkers signed up, and more than 30,000 globally.
About half of the UK agents are already trading, while 900 are poised to begin, said InteleTravel president James Ferrara.
He said: “We feel proud of this achievement and, now our [Abta] application is concluded, we can’t wait to tell our own story, accurately and professionally.
“While a traditional homeworking model exists in the UK, ours is different.
“New ideas and new competitors are vital to any marketplace.
“We look forward to making a considerable contribution to the future of the industry here and introducing the next generation of travel sellers to the UK.”
InteleTravel has drawn criticism from some UK agents after it began its recruitment drive via social media. Some have suggested the model – encouraging recruits to start by selling holidays to friends and family – devalued the role of a travel agent.
But Ferrara insisted its agents were professional, and said obtaining Abta membership was proof of that.
He said: “We have been thoroughly investigated and we are a better operation as a result of that review.”
InteleTravel has introduced online training for its agents in areas such as GDPR, package travel regulations, Atol, customer service and complaint resolution to comply with Abta’s requirements.
Tricia Handley-Hughes, managing director of Pinpoint Communications, has been appointed as UK director.
“We could have an operation in the UK without Abta, but we never wanted to do that,” Ferrara said.
The company’s UK agents sold holidays only through Atol‑protected operators, so had not breached UK regulations, he added.
John de Vial, head of financial protection at Abta, said: “We do not take membership decisions lightly.”
Confirming that InteleTravel had met its criteria and joined the association on March 20, De Vial said Abta’s role was to ensure InteleTravel complied with financial protection regulation – not to judge its business model.
He added: “Homeworking has clearly developed to be an important part of the market. There are lots of existing members recruiting people with non-travel backgrounds doing it very well, and I imagine there will be people who are much less successful at it. Our job is to ensure that everyone who comes in is meeting these requirements and competing fairly.”
Asked if InteleTravel would disrupt the UK market, de Vial said: “Every time we have seen a significant change in the industry there have always been voices saying ‘this is the end of the world’, or ‘the end of retail’ – this has never proved to be the case.”
He added that a two-year application process was “not unusual” for a firm coming into the UK from overseas.
InteleTravel’s entry into the UK adds to its presence in the US, Mexico, and ten Caribbean countries.
InteleTravel in numbers
1991 – Year founded, after James Ferrara’s venture capital firm bought a Californian homeworking agency
11 – Caribbean countries (10) and Mexico in which it also operates
1,800 – Agents already signed up in the UK
£32 – Agents’ monthly fee
£142 – Agents’ sign-up fee
2 – Years since company applied for Abta membership
70% – Proportion of supplier commission payments earned by new agents
30k – Agents contracted globally, including 15,000 in the US