The trade has raised fears that “get rich quick” franchise travel groups selling unprotected holidays could destroy the reputation of experienced agents.

Midcounties Co-operative group general manager for specialist retail Alistair Rowland told Abta’s Travel Convention one of the biggest challenges facing agents were US “pyramid-style” organisations expanding into the UK – tempting new recruits with no experience by claiming they can become high‑earning travel agents.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Rowland said: “Right now this market is expanding and my call out is that it’s expanding at risk with no governance. The person that will lose out is the consumer.

“If we allow these US organisations to gain legitimacy in the UK, this will be a dangerous scenario if transactions are not properly financially protected.

“There are people who are purporting to be travel agents when really that’s the last thing they are and they have no expertise. We need to protect the honour of the industry.”

Designer Travel managing director Amanda Matthews agreed there was a “disaster waiting to happen”, with new-style ‘agents’ entering travel to “get rich quick”.

“I believe the reputation of our profession as travel agents could be on the line,” she said.

Agents have also reported increasing numbers of start-up retailers asking ‘basic’ questions on travel agency forums, suggesting a lack of knowledge.

These range from posts asking for help to find suppliers which could sell a twin-centre holiday in Paxos, a northern lights cruise and a villa for 10 in Portugal, to when easyJet flights go on sale or what the weather is like in Jamaica in October – all requests experienced agents say travel professionals should know.

When asked about franchise groups joining, an Abta spokesman said all members are subject to its code of conduct and must follow all the legal obligations, which “helps provide the highest standards of customer service”.