Pictured: Christine-Edgeller; Neil-Basnett; Sharon-McLoughlin; Helen-Sanders,

Elite Travel Group Conference 2017: Credit card fees and data protection rules among topics at agency group’s annual event as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Juliet Dennis reports from Calvia, Majorca

Members urge consortia to negotiate better card rates

Elite Travel Group members have called on consortia and Abta to negotiate better credit card charges on their behalf ahead of next year’s abolition of fees for consumers.

The ban on surcharging for credit and debit card payments for most transactions, including flight and holiday bookings, applies from January 13, 2018.

Some agents have already negotiated reduced card fees, while some operators are increasing commission to offset the cost for agents.

But Carrick Travel, which has negotiated lower rates, urged Elite to take a more active role and talk to banks. Director Tracey Carter said: “Elite has to do something to get these fees down.”

Sue Foxall, managing director of Kinver Travel, said: “It’s down to Elite to do something or press Advantage to see what deals the banks can come up with. There will be agents who really suffer.”

Elite Travel Group chief executive Neil Basnett promised to consult the board of directors but added that Advantage, with which Elite is affiliated, was better placed to hold talks because of its size.

He said: “Advantage will have more clout than Elite.”

Agents also called for more support from Abta. Nathan Collins, director at RB Collection, said: “Abta needs to lobby card providers for better rates.”

Colin Matthews, managing director of Travel Club Elite, added: “If Abta could compile a best practice guide then you have got something to target.”

Simon Bunce, Abta’s director of legal affairs, told delegates: “It is difficult for Abta to get into negotiations with card providers. We have produced guidance and agents need to work out what is best for their business.”

‘Don’t panic about GDPR but get ready to comply’

Agents have been advised against asking clients to “opt in” to direct marketing promotions ahead of new data protection rules.

Abta head of legal affairs Simon Bunce warned agents could risk losing their entire database if they explicitly ask for clients’ consent. He urged agents to prepare for the new regulations and “keep calm”.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) replaces the Data Protection Act on May 18 next year. Many in the trade believe “opt in” client consent to be necessary under the new rules.

Bunce said: “There is a bit of confusion around the requirement for consent. But I would caution against writing to your whole database to reaffirm customers’ consent because I don’t think you will get it. You will lose your database.”

He said: “Let’s not panic, but you will need to get ready and take steps to comply.”

Agents should continue to offer an “opt out” option on emails to clients, he stressed.

Abta has produced spreadsheets for members to start checking what data they have, where it is held, who it is shared with and security levels.

Agents are also likely to need to “beef up” privacy policies.

Bunce said: “You must not underestimate how big a job this all is. The real headache is going to be emails.”

Claire Moore, manager at Peakes Travel Elite, added: “The challenge sometimes is not understanding the technology well enough. When we think something is deleted, is it really deleted?”

African Pride sales manager David Holland said: “One of our main concerns is the data we send to partners, such as a lodge in Malawi, and getting them to understand.”

Elite offers free memberships to celebrate 40 years

Elite Travel Group is planning a recruitment drive and is giving away free membership for 2018 to mark its 40th anniversary.

The consortium has employed a business development manager for the first time to support its existing 60 branches and attract new agencies.

Karen Oates, who previously worked at Midcounties Co‑operative and The Travel Network Group, will visit the group’s 45 members regularly and promote its revamped website, which allows agents to load business profiles.

Chief executive Neil Basnett said: “Karen wants to bring in new members. Ideally at some stage we will have 100 locations, but I am realistic – it’s very hard for agents to move consortium.”

The consortium announced its offer of free membership to new and existing members to celebrate its 40th anniversary, an offer it aims to promote as part of a three-month marketing campaign. This is worth £950 per head office member annually and £495 for every other branch.

“This is a significant cost for the consortium but we want to acknowledge members’ loyalty and say thank you,” said Basnett.

Elite Travel Group will hold next year’s conference in Granada in southern Spain.

Carrick: Diversify when trading is strong

Travel firms should only expand from a position of strength during challenging times such as the current climate, according to If Only head of partnerships Dominic Carrick.

The long-haul operator, which this year recruited five senior executives from Travel 2 and Gold Medal to join its management team, is expanding its destination range.

Speaking at the Elite conference, Carrick said: “Don’t neglect your strengths; they are vital in difficult times. Don’t be lured by the trend of diversification; only diversify when you are strong. We feel ready to venture to other parts of the globe. We are doing this from a position of strength.”

What are you doing about the abolition of credit card fees

Colin Matthews, Travel Club Elite
“We will offer incentives, like vouchers [to encourage non-card sales] and talk to banks.”

Hazel Bryant, Travel with Kitts
“We moved card acquirers to get a better rate. We will still take credit cards but just for holiday deposits if possible.”

Frances Peake, Peakes Travel
“We renegotiated our fees and stopped charging for credit cards from October 1.”

Barry Moxley, Traveltime
“We spoke to credit card companies a year ago to renegotiate rates.”

Keith Butterfield, Number One Travel
“We will approach credit card companies and talk to suppliers to get commissions up.”