ABTA has received the go-ahead from the Government to change its Code of Conduct to make it an offence for travel agents to tell customers to pick up brochures from a competitor’s shelves.

The association has given members who carry out the practice a few weeks to change their policy or face a severe reprimand or unlimited fine.

ABTA wrote to the Office of Fair Trading last month following complaints from members that there has been an increase in agencies which do not have stocks of brochures pointing customers in the direction of high-street agencies to pick up details of holidays (Travel Weekly July 12).

The main culprits are call centres and agents who run discount clubs. ABTA Travel Agents’ Council chairman Stephen Bath said: “The OFT’s decision is excellent news for the majority of travel agents who see far too many brochures leaving their shops and not coming back.

“What really damages agents is that they lose their brochures, do not make a sale and are then punished the next year by operators who do not give them any more brochures. It is a continual drip of business away from high-street agents.

“Call centres are one of the fastest growing areas of retail travel and we were worried that this could have become a huge problem. Every time another call centre is opened, that could potentially mean hundreds of brochures will disappear from high-street travel agents’ shelves.

“This practice will not stop outright, but the new clause will certainly help,” he added. “All operators who run discount clubs, Teletext operations and call centres need to start redrafting their adverts now because this rule will come into effect very quickly.”

ABTA legal adviser Stephen Balonwu said the association is currently rewriting the Code of Conduct to take into account the new clause and will be writing to agents within the next two weeks to tell them of the changes. “The new Code will come into effect straight away, although we will probably give agents a few weeks’ leeway to change their literature,” he said.