Abta is to allow smaller members to defer subscription payments until the start of 2022 following pressure from cash-strapped agents.
Members whose subscription cost is £3,000 or below per year will now be able to make two equal payments on January 4 and April 1, 2022, instead of four payments spread across the year.
Abta said it had decided to allow smaller members to defer payments because of the prolonged recovery of the sector.
It acknowledged this was causing “further, often acute, financial difficulties for many members, in particular smaller members, typically independent agents and operators”.
In a statement, it said: “It is an extremely worrying and, in some cases, desperate time, which is affecting many members deeply.
“With nothing to pay until January 2022, it is hoped that this will allow members extra time for their cashflow to return closer to pre-pandemic levels.”
But Abta stressed that as a not-for-profit organisation it could not bring down the overall cost of subscriptions as it did last year “even with a continuing programme of cuts to discretionary costs”.
Members whose fees exceed £3,000 will still need to pay four instalments of 25% of their overall subscription. The first two of these payments are due in July and October.
For 2020-2021, Abta reduced subscription costs by more than £3 million across the board because of the impact of the pandemic on members, which allowed members six months’ free membership.
It said: “We recognise it is not only smaller members who have been experiencing financial difficulties and, in an ideal world, we would offer this further deferral to more members.
“However, we reiterate we are a not-for-profit organisation which last year reduced subscriptions overall by around £3 million; this limits our room for manoeuvre even with a cost reduction programme and means that the figure of a £3,000 annual subscription is the largest member to which we can realistically apply this new deferral.”
Abta said it had seen higher demand than ever for its services, which need to be funded, primarily via subscriptions.
Subscriptions will return to being paid in full with one single annual payment from July 2022.
Agent action group Travel Agent Reform Group Engaged Together (Target) welcomed the deferral of subscription fees but said it was disappointed the overall subscription amount had not been reduced. It called on Abta last month to halve subscription levels as it did for 2020-2021.
Co-founder Graeme Brett, of Westoe Travel, said: “We welcome the decision to defer the payment date to January but unless the travel industry recovers by then, members will still be unable to pay.
“They will face payments in January and April, and then next year’s renewal in July.”
Co-founder Jill Waite, of Pole Travel, said: “We have seen other trade bodies reducing their overheads and wage bill and Abta needs to do the same and pass the savings on to their members who simply cannot afford the current fees.”
Brett urged Abta to “drastically reduce” its overheads and wage bill in the next six months in order to reduce the amount due in January.
Target is also now asking other consortia to follow Abta’s example and defer payments and reduce fees if they have not done so already for all members.