AITO representatives formed an expert panel at its AITO Agents’ domestic conference to highlight their top tips for 2013 and the issues to keep an eye on this year.
The panel featured Ted Wake of Kirker Holidays, Nigel Armitage of Millington Travel, Eddie Kyle of Kyle Travel Services and Brendan Maguire of If Only…
Maguire from If Only…highlighted the increasing numbers of vouchers agents are receiving for making bookings with operators, which raised a number of comments from delegates. He said: “We have been dragged into the gutter paying vouchers to travel agents. We do partake in this occasionally with the utmost reluctance, but I feel that objectivity is going out of the window and a number of agents are booking solely with operators for that reason.”
Noel Josephides from Sunvil Holidays and ABTA board director said that ABTA is looking at this issue under the Bribery Act. He said: “It’s a very serious issue because it’s wrong for clients to be diverted away from you simply because the agent is getting vouchers. ABTA legal are going to take a look at this as it’s a growing trend.”
Gemma Antrobus from Hazelmere Travel, an agency that refuses to accept voucher incentives, said that in the true spirit of AITO this isn’t what agents should be offering our clients. She said: What’s most important is the service we give our clients, ensuring that we’re selling the right holiday to the right client through the right operator. We use the lack of not having vouchers to negotiate better commercial terms with our tour operator partners and it works exceptionally well.”
Armitage added that he saw this from a different perspective. He said: “There’s been such a tight squeeze on salaries over the past four or five years, so if an operator is offering benefits for staff I’m happy to allow them to claim vouchers because as an owner I’m telling them who to sell. If times were not so tight and salaries were not so tight, maybe I would take the vouchers away and agree with you.”
Other concerns from the panel included the increasing number of all-inclusive resorts being opened worldwide, raised by Armitage, which has meant that locals are struggling for trade and losing their livelihoods. Wake responded by saying that as long as agents understand the complex consumer and what their particular client is after, they can come up with some expert advice about a tailor-made alternative to give the consumer a chance to think more about it, adding that at this point in the economic cycle it’s more of a challenge to get this message across. Andrew Brownrigg of Haslemere Travel suggested that it might be a good opportunity for hotels to build relationships with restaurants as part of an all-inclusive offer, in the form of spending vouchers in local restaurants.
Meanwhile, Kyle posed the question that ABTA may now be a spent force, in view of the CAA’s efforts to educate the general pubic with regard to the Atol certificate. He also voiced concern over his ABTA membership having received little guidance on the issue surrounding paying VAT on credit cards.
Josephides responded by asking other delegates if they had similar issues and if agents had felt abandoned on this issue to look after themselves. Around half of agents agreed and Josephides said he would take this up with ABTA.