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Travel Republic head Kane Pirie has praised Flight-Plus Atol reform and Abta’s role in shaping it.

Pirie, managing director of Travel Republic and an Abta board member, said: “The Atol reform has gone pretty well – thanks to lobbying by Abta. It seems to be fine.”

Speaking at an e-tid briefing at Abta’s Travel Convention in Belek, Turkey, Pirie said: “Flight-Plus has enshrined in UK law the fact that you can sell a flight and a hotel as an agent.”

Travel Republic acquired an Atol following introduction of the new licence at the end of April, after Pirie had previously opposed the reform – at one point suggesting it would prove “a disaster”.

However, Pirie and other online travel agencies (OTAs) are increasingly concerned that the European Commission will extend package travel rules – the Package Travel Directive (PTD) – to cover Flight-Plus sales.

He said: “We want to ensure Flight-Plus is not overturned by Brussels by extending the Directive.”

The EC is expected to publish proposals for extending the PTD early next year.

Tui Travel distribution and online director Nick Longman disagreed with Pirie, saying: “Customers want a holiday whether it is sold as a package or as a flight and accommodation, and if customers are buying a holiday, they should be protected.

“I don’t think customers understand the difference.”

Pirie pointed out large numbers of bookings would remain outside any extension. But Longman said: “We don’t have to wait for everyone to come in to level the playing field. We can do it in stages.”

That triggered a sharp response from Pirie, who said: “The level-playing field argument is not right. We have different business models and need to be regulated in a different way.

“Why can’t we level down? Flight Plus has established you can sell a flight and a room and it is not a package. Let’s keep that.

“We need to ensure the agency community get involved in this. It is not just about the online travel agents.”

Midcounties Co-op travel group general manager Alastair Rowland said: “I agree with Kane. Now the UK has implement Flight-Plus, it would be confusing to let that go in Europe.”