TWgroup editor Lucy HuxleyWillie Walsh’s appearance at the Abta Travel Convention in Malta this October will undoubtedly be the biggest draw at what is the industry’s highest-profile event.

British Airways and its chief executive have dominated the travel headlines through a spring and summer of strikes, volcanic ash and record losses to emerge, nonetheless, as a standard bearer of the industry. It is the position we should expect of the national carrier.

Walsh’s address to the convention marks a culmination of the BA’s re-engagement with leisure agents after its relationship with the trade hit a low point in mid-decade over the axing of commission.

BA’s subsequent re-emphasis on leisure routes, particularly to the Caribbean, has helped – the airline will even return to Cancun in the autumn after a lengthy break.

We have also seen a step-change in support for and communication with the trade, with the carrier drawing widespread praise from agents for its handling of the disruption to clients caused by striking cabin crew.

So it’s a shame to report this week that independent tour operators’ association Aito and BA have become embroiled in a row over compensation to companies that helped clients financially during the ash crisis.

The industry has had a tough 18 months thanks to the banking squeeze and recession, and only this morning the BBC reported fears of a second downturn in 2011 thanks to government spending cuts.

With no immediate prospect of improvement in the economic outlook, it is more important than ever that BA and other key suppliers maintain good relations with the trade.