Comment: Abta’s streamlined committee system will speed up decision making

New Members’ Committee chairman Rich Simpson outlines changes to the association’s structure

It is Abta’s members which help make it such a powerful association, that not only represents their interests but also provides frameworks in which high standards in travel and tourism operations can be maintained.  A key way of doing this is being involved in Abta’s committee structure, and I am delighted and honoured to have been elected chairman of the new Abta Members’ Committee

This new Committee, meeting monthly starting in July, will deal with all matters that have, to date, been dealt with by separate Membership, Code of Conduct and Agent Fund Committees.  The three have now come together to remove duplication and speed up decision making, but also to provide truly interesting and influential roles for Abta members who sit on it. In more detail, these are a group of travel agents and tour operator members, alongside representatives from the Trading Standards Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority, who have the task of ensuring that a fair and consistent approach is taken to dealing with matters that arise from Abta members around the Articles of Association, Membership Rules and Financial Criteria, Code of Conduct, Risk and Claims and so on.

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It is a representative, peer group decision-making body, which works with the Abta secretariat, aiming to ensure that there is a fair balance between the protection of consumers and the Abta brand for the benefit of all members, as well as working to manage Abta’s financial protection schemes.

I previously sat on the Code of Conduct committee for a number of years. That committee oversaw the operation of the Abta Code of Conduct which is the framework allowing ABTA and its members to work together, so that members can do the right thing to ensure that customers get the best possible service. Having the guidance of the Code is a great help to members when things don’t go according to plan and the framework of high standards it sets, and which members operate in, is one of the reasons why consumers trust the ABTA brand so much.

The Members’ Committee will now hear cases of possible breaches of the Code. These include – failures to notify of changes to holidays (at all or in a timely fashion) and the options that this then gives customers and failing to deal with complaints or to adhere to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (Arbitration) solutions.

Members are invited to provide feedback or appear (either on screen or in person) to explain their position, before the Committee would discuss and come to a decision on how to move forward with the case.

I moved onto the Membership Committee in 2020 joining a different group of established industry colleagues, who would meet monthly to hear issues delegated to that committee. These would include cases where businesses were going through a change of control, managing the provision of accounts or financial returns to Abta, or matters relating to the provision of financial security.

The Committee’s aim will be to ensure members understand and can follow the membership rules and Code of Conduct, so that all members uphold the values of being a member of Abta. The Committee will benefit from having the expertise from a range of industry representatives who will work together and challenge each other, to find the right outcomes to the wide range of issues brought before them. Some of these will be new to Abta’s committees, some will be ‘older hands’, all will make valuable contributions.

It’s likely that a small number of these will be difficult cases and if members need to change how they operate then different tools are available to drive the right behaviours, in proportion to addressing the case in point. These range from reprimands, financial penalties through to – in extreme circumstances – termination of membership. Importantly, the aim is less ‘punishment’ than it is driving the right behaviours.

It is almost 10 years since I was approached by Abta to consider becoming a committee member. During that time I have worked alongside some incredible people, who have shared their knowledge and insight to help me to take on this new role whilst ensuring their balanced, inquisitive but considerate views continue to be a factor in the way the Committee will operate.

I wish the outgoing members well and thank them for the intelligence and experience which they have shared with me and the wider Committees. The good work that has always been done will continue in the new Member Committee. I am looking forward to the new journey with the new Committee and the wider Abta membership.

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