ABTA has hit back at claims that agents are ready to quit to join an alternative group, despite at least 24 members seeking applications to take up the Worldchoice offer of life outside the association.
Worldchoice unveiled a new category of membership last week that it claims will give agents an independent voice and services to match ABTA's for at least £250 a year less than an ABTA subscription.
The consortium aims to have the scheme in place by May ahead of ABTA's June subscription renewal and has started talks to sign additional suppliers to the Worldchoice payment system ACAS.
ABTA responded by stressing its success as a "super brand" and reporting a 51% rise in membership in the six months to December 2008 compared with the previous year.
Chief executive Mark Tanzer said: "Our membership research shows a high level of satisfaction. It suggests members, including Worldchoice members, are happy with what ABTA provides.
"I am concerned if there are ABTA members feeling they do not enjoy value for money or are not properly represented. But a lot of what I have heard is short on specifics. I am not complacent, but this is as much to do with the politics of the consortium as with ABTA."
However, Worldchoice managing director Simon Hargreaves said: "We expected between 10 and 20 members to show an interest but reached the mid-20s in those wanting to apply on Monday. That is a good start. We are designing this around the dissatisfaction with ABTA.
"I would expect to get more in following years," he said.
The scheme is exclusive to Worldchoice members for now. Hargreaves insisted: "We have done the numbers and we can save members at least £250. There could be much bigger savings - it will depend on the cost of including the risk of a business."
Tanzer queried whether this was possible. "If Worldchoice can do everything we do for £250 less, I will be interested to know how. I estimate the ABTA name alone is worth more than £250 a year."
But Hargreaves said: "Agents will decide how much they value the ABTA brand. We have started talking to operators. There will be a decision to make in May."
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