Travel Republic managing director Kane Pirie has made his strongest attack yet on plans to bring retailers into the Atol scheme.

Pirie told an Abta travel law seminar on the government’s flight-plus reforms yesterday: “The proposals will be a disaster. . . Agents will seek to avoid them or move offshore.”

The proposals are backed by Abta. But Pirie, an Abta board member, said: “I’ve never heard so much spin. The real problem is the deficit in the Air Travel Trust fund.”

He said the changes would mean “overcharging agents to compensate for undercharging operators”, and asked: “Why should agents pay the same rate of Atol Protection Contribution when they do not present the same risk [as tour operators]?”

Pirie argued the £2.50 charge on Atol-protected bookings would “drive people to book unprotected arrangements and lead to more unprotected holidays”.

He suggested: “The reform will mean a proliferation of fig-leaf Atol holders who have the Atol logo on their site, but when it comes to booking they act as an agent of the customer and there is no Atol protection.”

Pirie questioned whether it would even remain possible to act an agent, insisting the reform would “distort the competitive landscape”. “It is not clear agents can still be an agent,” he said, adding: “Does anyone care about financial protection? The proposals are rubbish.”

Hays Travel managing director John Hays told the seminar: “The lack of clarity for consumers has to be the starting point. It is not acceptable that two people can be sat next to one another on an aircraft and going to the same hotel and, depending how they booked, one is protected and one is not.”

Hays added: “Any scheme that excludes airlines has so many loopholes. It should be mandatory to say what is protected and what is not.”