Information manager Dennis Ashby is the first port of call at ABTA for any member seeking advice.
Ashby heads up the eight-strong information team which is on hand to help members whenever they need assistance, advice, or worse – are in trouble.
Handling around 12,000 enquiries a year, the team, which Ashby has run since its inception in 1988, is always busy as it deals with virtually anything and everything going on both in the UK and the world that has an impact on travel.
Problems can range from resolving legal issues over a booking to dealing with a tragedy such as a death in resort.
He said: “I always tell the team whenever someone rings up that it could be the first time they have ever phoned us or the last. The aim for us is to make sure they call again.
“The idea is that when anyone calls the members line, if you don’t know the answer then there’s always someone who does.
“Whenever someone rings up, the first thing we’ll do is get as much information from them as we can, then figure out what the problem is and how we can rectify it.”
Ashby said a lot of the time the job is about reassuring members who may have encountered a problem for the first time.
He added: “There was a case the other week when we had an agent saying a client was going to take them to Watchdog.
“They were really worried but I asked the agent if Watchdog had phoned them about the case. When they said no, I reassured the agent that Watchdog was not going to run a story taking one person’s point of view.”
The team can be quite blunt in the advice it gives its members, but Ashby believes they have to be firm to get the best resolution.
Ashby said: “We don’t always tell [agents and operators] what they want to hear; we tell them what they need to hear.
“There are times when we know a mistake has been made and we try everything to get that man on the right road. We all make mistakes.
“We always try to rectify a problem for members, but there are times when you wonder if you could have done more. However, most of the time there is a way
of helping people.”
While the team always keeps an eye on the news in order to deal with travel-related issues as they arise, Ashby added it can be difficult to predict when and where a crisis strikes.
He has been surprised that there haven’t been more calls from companies suffering in the downturn, while he was also anticipating a lot of calls when the Civil Aviation Authority introduced the £1 ATOL Protection Contribution last year.
Ashby said: “We had the CAA come in and we all sat down: we always try to get up to date with what’s going on.”
However, Ashby added perhaps one of the biggest anti-climaxes he dealt with was the millennium bug, which at the end of 1999 threatened to send the earth back to the Dark Ages as computers failed to deal with the new millennium.
He said ABTA set up a crack team of up to six staff members who were prepared to deal with the fallout for members should the threat of the bug become a reality.
Instead, Ashby was left twiddling his thumbs as the new millennium dawned and the world’s cyber structure continued to work without a hitch.
He said: “I took three calls: one from the chief executive, one from the head of PR and one from a member asking me what I was doing in the office.
“There was a bit of an anticlimax that it didn’t come off, but I was more grateful on the other side that there weren’t any problems.”
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