Abta plans to issue guidance to agents on receiving vouchers as booking incentives amid concerns they could contravene the Bribery Act.
The Bribery Act 2010 is primarily in place to prevent corporate hospitality influencing significant business decisions.
Noel Josephides, an Abta director, is to speak to the association’s legal team to compile advice on the issue.
He said there appeared to be an increasing number of luxury operators offering vouchers in return for bookings.
“Agents need to know where they stand. It also seems to go against the whole concept of independence. Whether it falls foul of the act or not, are you selling what’s best for your client?”
The move follows a call by If Only founder Brendan Maguire to abolish high-value shopping vouchers for agents who book a certain supplier.
Speaking at this weekend’s Aito Specialist Travel Agents domestic conference, he said vouchers were creating a culture in which agents favoured operators on the basis of what vouchers they offered.
He cited an example of when If Only lost an agent booking to a rival offering up to £400 in vouchers, despite If Only being £2,000 cheaper.
He said: “Agents are now asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ Theoretically, tax authorities could say to an agent this is tantamount to a pay rise. There are some agents earning thousands of pounds a month in vouchers.”
He admitted If Only offered vouchers on occasion. “We have to swim with the sharks. We have to be commercial but I honestly believe we are being dragged into the gutter. I want it to come to an end.”
Gemma Antrobus, Haslemere Travel managing director, said. “It’s not what we’re about,” she said.
However, other agents admitted they were happy to accept vouchers. Nigel Armitage, co-owner of Millington Travel, said: “If salaries were better I would take vouchers away.”
TravLaw associate solicitor Matt Gatenby said: “There are no cases relating to the travel industry as yet. It’s got to the stage where everyone is wondering if anything is going to happen and if the government is taking this seriously.”
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