Abta has urged agents to review supplier agreements after some were left thousands of pounds out of pocket over hotel-only bookings in the wake of Super Break’s collapse last week.

Many agents were shocked to discover accommodation-only bookings they had made with the operator were not protected by Abta, with some accusing the association of allowing misleading information in Super Break’s brochures.

But the association’s financial protection chief, John de Vial, said such bookings have not required protection for more than 10 years after members voted against it in 2007 (see below).

De Vial said members had wanted the “commercial freedom” to choose what was protected and that Super Break’s agency agreements made clear that only packages were protected.

However, he said: “Clarity on this is important. Has Super Break set out to mislead? I’m not sure. Should the trade be compelled to make proactive statements about what is not protected? That is a question. The more important thing is clarity of understanding and ensuring you know the terms you are working on.”

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In its brochures, Super Break said it was Abta-bonded and Atol-protected. At the bottom of a page featuring hotels, it stated ‘Peace of mind with Abta and Atol protection’.

Simon Morgan, chief executive of 18-branch Tailor Made Travel, which could face a £20,000 bill, said: “If you pick up a brochure that says Abta all over, you feel like you are doing the right thing [for customers]. We know now that accommodation-only bookings are not protected, but that wasn’t clear.”

Peter Cookson, group managing director of miniple Spear Travels, said: “Would any Abta member have booked with Super Break if they had known that the hotel bookings were not covered? No, they wouldn’t. It’s commercial suicide. Abta are culpable in this.”

Graeme Brett, owner of Westoe Travel, said: “Abta is saying Super Break chose only to protect packages, but that was never made clear by Super Break. On page five of the brochure it had the Abta logo and there is a lot of hotel-only product.”
De Vial argued: “All of that product could have been booked as a package and have protection.”

He added that Abta ensured advertising was as clear as possible, but it could not police all brochures.

“One of the learnings [from the failure] is the importance of understanding the terms that you sign up to,” said De Vial.

“It’s no different to flight‑only. This is about commercial freedom and all of those members in the trade having the freedom to negotiate their own terms and making conscious decisions.”

Members voted against protection

In 2007, Abta consulted members on the future of financial protection for single elements of a holiday that sat outside a package.

Members voted to choose whether or not to protect products that did not have to be protected by law. Abta said this came at a time when agents and operators were coming under competition from online players.

“Agents said they needed the freedom to be able to acquire accommodation or car hire in the way they chose, on the terms they chose, including whether they are protected or not,” said Abta director of financial protecion John de Vial.

“They said if they were compelled to choose premium products – that is, only protected packages – they couldn’t be competitive.”