Campaign group Target says Abta has pledged to review how it works with and represents travel agent members.
Travel Agent Reform Group Engaged Together (Target) founders Graeme Brett and Jill Waite were among a group of independent agents who travelled to Abta’s London headquarters for a meeting with senior Abta staff lasting five and a half hours this week. They were joined by Helen Parry, of Arundel Travel; Jane Logue, of Argos Travel Service; and David Carruthers, of Conexo Travel.
Target, formed earlier this year, put forward a number of proposals at the meeting in a bid to improve relations between members and Abta, which they say have soured since the start of the pandemic, creating a “substantial amount of increased friction in the travel indsutry”. They said they were told Abta, which stressed the meeting was part of ongoing member engagement, will respond in the new year.
Issues discussed included representation of agents and the need for more diversity on the Abta board; the association’s openness and transparency in terms of communication with members; and making its events more accessible to agents, said Target’s Brett.
He said: “There was a commitment by Abta to review the way it works and make sure it represents members better in the future. They said they would look at everything we put forward.”
The Abta board includes two agency representatives: Britaly Travel owner Daniele Broccoli, representing firms with turnover of less than £20 million a year, and Flight Centre chief financial officer Adam Murray, representing firms with turnover of more than £20 million. Out of 13 board members, only three are female and of those only one works in the travel industry.
Brett said: “In an industry where nearly 80% of employees are female that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“We would like to see more agents on the board; ideally we’d like it to be half agents and half operators and make sure there is a balance of gender and diversity.
“Members don’t see names on the board that they recognise as members so it doesn’t fill them with confidence that Abta is representing their needs.”
Brett said the group had also urged Abta to be more transparent with members, for example about the conversations it was having at government level, which meant agents were often not aware of the “good work” Abta was doing on their behalf.
He was also hopeful the associaton would make its events more accessible to grassroots agents, who often find them expensive to attend.
The very fact the meeting had taken place showed Abta was keen to take the group’s proposals on board, he said. The date of a second meeting has yet to be organised.
Waite said the meeting provided a “huge opportunity” to influence the way Abta operates in future. She said: “It was very helpful to have a face-to-face meeting and explain the reasoning for our proposals. Abta has agreed to look into all of the proposals we put forward and respond in the New Year. We are hoping for a follow up meeting to cover the outstanding issues we raised.”
An Abta spokesperson said: “This meeting was a part of our ongoing engagement with members of all types and included a number of independent agents, some of whom are members of Target, and members of Abta’s Council of Regions who represent our agent members across the regions.
“The meeting was a chance for Abta to listen to the views of agents and for agents to hear from senior staff at Abta about the work we are doing to support agent members.”