ABTA has come in for unfair criticism over the proposed changes to the ATOL consumer protection regime in the UK, a seminar organised by accountancy firm Grant Thornton heard this week.

Chris Photi, senior partner at accountancy firm White Hart Associates, criticised the proposed implementation of ‘flights plus’ to expand the reach of ATOL to cover DIY sales. He said the move would be good for the consumer but claimed the impact it will have on travel firms, due to additional regulatory and financial burdens, had been given no consideration by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

“I think it [ABTA] has come in for a lot of criticism in the last week or two, which is entirely unfair. ABTA is trying its hardest to care for retailers and members, particularly its larger retailers. Sometimes dealing with the CAA is like banging your head against a brick wall.”

The backing for ABTA came after large online travel agents claimed it was being too heavily influenced by the big two as it prepares responses to proposed UK and European regulation changes.

Last week Travel Weekly exclusively revealed that Institute of Travel and Tourism  chairman Steven Freudmann had invited large retailers to a meeting in London later this month to discuss forming a group for political lobbying.

But after a first meeting of the ABTA steering group on ATOL reform last Friday, association chairman John McEwan said he was confident that it could represent all the views of its members.

McEwan said: “It’s still early in the process and Friday’s meeting was the first to consider the DfT’s documents.

“Until we can hear what the members are saying, it’s difficult to speculate, but what we have got to do is respond in a way that serves the interests of our members and ensure that whatever proposals go forward do not hinder trade or put exorbitant costs into the business. I have every confidence in ABTA’s ability to do that.”

The next meeting of the steering group will be held at the end of this month.