The president of controversial homeworking company InteleTravel has branded criticism of the company as “misinformation” and “gossip”.

Speaking at a Travel Weekly Business Breakfast in his first UK public appearance, James Ferrara said backlash to InteleTravel being granted Abta membership in March was “full of assumption” that “smells of the past”.

But Abta board member Alistair Rowland, retail boss at Midcounties Co-operative, said he had never seen the trade “more offended” than by the US firm’s arrival in the UK.

The rivals came face-to-face on a panel to debate the Future of Travel Selling that marked Travel Weekly’s 50th anniversary and redesign launch.

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Referring to criticism of the way InteleTravel targets non-travel specialists on social media by promising the opportunity to earn the chance to holiday for free, Rowland said: “It’s not about commodity product, it’s about recruitment. When you blur the line between recruitment and commodity travel without the governance it makes a mockery of the travel industry. It’s fundamentally wrong.

“All homeworking agencies take new agents, but we [Midcounties] train them for a year because that’s what they need to be robust. There is very little evidence of that at InteleTravel.”

Ferrara hit back, insisting InteleTravel was not a network marketing company or a pyramid seller. “That’s a common misconception about our business,” he said. “We do not do any kind of recruiting. Our events are all travel training events. They include top brands and trainers.

“We have former high street agents who tell us they never received the kind of training they do at InteleTravel. We never stop training.”

Ferrara revealed that InteleTravel, which has 40,000 US agents, had grown from 1,800 agents in the UK to 2,500 since March and that UK sales in April were higher than for the whole of 2018.

Andy Washington, Culture Trip senior vice-president of travel, said the key question about InteleTravel was “does the consumer like it?”

“If they like it, that’s the important thing,” he said. “There is room for us all. The world has moved on and the consumer has a bigger voice than ever.”

InteleTravel consortium ‘talks’

InteleTravel is in talks about joining a UK consortium. Boss James Ferrara said being in a consortium was more of a “business advantage issue” than a “badge”, like joining Abta. Asked which consortium, he said it was a “private conversation”, adding: “We’re starting from scratch, so it’s about supplier relationships, purchasing power and technology.”

Midcounties’ Alistair Rowland said InteleTravel was “too big a legal risk” for any consortium. Ferrara called that “nonsense”, saying it had a strong record in the US of consortium membership.

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