The campaign founded by VIVID Travel founder Kane Pirie to oppose legal amendments to the Package Travel Regulations will now back Abta’s stance on temporary changes to allow travel firms to stay afloat.
In an open letter, Pirie said that in light of “a regulator missing in action and a mute government”, Abta’s proposal to allow firms to issue credit notes for refunds to be paid at a later date was “the best option we have available”.
Pirie added that the focus of the It’s Right to Refund campaign would now be tour operators choosing to act outside both the PTRs and Abta’s proposed alternative structure and offering vouchers with no refund option.
Abta has lobbied the government to extend the 14-day refund window initially to July 31 and called for protection to be given to ‘refund credit notes’ offered in place of cash refunds in the interim.
In the meantime, it has partially taken matters into its own hands, recommending members issue the refund credit notes on Atol-protected bookings up to that date.
The open letter from Pirie to parties including the CAA, Abta, the government and Which? said: “I am uncomfortable with any party taking the law into their own hands and unsure as to where that takes us.
“Further, I have concerns that the mechanism Abta have favoured, introducing a new document has complicated the situation. However, I do not doubt Abta’s motives are sound and what are we to do when the law is broken, the government silent, the regulator: CAA, seemingly mute?
“I have had a number of discussions with Abta in recent days and have enormous respect for their chief executive, Mark Tanzer. I served as a director on the Abta board and Mark is as passionate about the UK travel industry as I am.
“I have therefore decided, in these exceptional times during which the difficulties are greatly exacerbated by a regulator seemingly missing in action and a mute government, that Abta and their code of conduct is the that best that we have available.
“At least that gives us rules and a referee even cognisant that Abta lack the ability to legally enforce their code of conduct on market participants, especially the many non-Abta tour operators.”
The letter continued: “Its Right to Refund will therefore support Abta as the de facto regulator and their position on proposed PTR reform as stated and focus energies on the tour operators who are now choosing to act outside of both the PTRs as they stand and as Abta have proposed they are amended.”
Pirie went on to note concerns that credit refunds on Atol-protected bookings would not be honoured by the CAA in the event of a company failure, and said that he would demonstrate his commitment to consumer rights by offering to buy up to £10,000 of Atol claims from consumers left out of pocket in such circumstances.
He added: “Subject to agreement with those individual consumers I will offer to buy those claims, for cash and at par, and will then pursue recovery of my losses from the CAA and through the courts if necessary.”
The open letter also pledged to review a decision not to identify by name “outlaw tour operators” acting outside the PTRs and Abta’s guidance following the Easter weekend.
It also addressed criticism that Pirie’s own stance on refunding all customers had been led by the small scale of his own operation.
The letter said: “It has been suggested online, and in public, this is somehow painless for me to effect as VIVID Travel is “so small my nephew could pay the refunds from his piggy bank”. To clarify, in a normal year, let us hope 2021, we would be targeting sales of circa £10m. So yes, we are small but not tiny.
“VIVID Travel has processed refunds only after emergency finance was put in place by me. I have three children and only took that decision in conjunction with my wife. I now have a debt to a bank but hope to resolve that without significant financial distress, not least, as I have been fortunate in earlier business ventures including Travel Republic. We are very happy to highlight any other tour operators working to the PTRs if you make me aware.”