InteleTravel has refuted fresh accusations that it is operating as a pyramid scheme after a reality TV personality who signed up to the home working group announced plans to recruit agents.

News of former Towie star Mario Falcone joining the homeworking company led to a flurry of responses from travel trade professionals questioning the firm’s recruitment model.

But an InteleTravel spokeswoman strongly refuted claims it was a multi-level marketing business, or pyramid scheme, which involves paying members to recruit others into the scheme rather than selling products.

She said: “Recruitment is via an external business, and only after credit and credential checks, is an agent accepted as an InteleTravel agent. As much as there will be those trying their hardest to link the two, there will never be evidence because none exists. InteleTravel remains a homeworking travel agency business that provides options for those looking for entry into the travel sector.

“The obscured view is held by selected travel agents who cannot understand or accept the InteleTravel strategy of growing the travel sector through newly-educated agents or accept that change in the market is required in a potentially shrinking market. Suppliers are able to see the bigger picture – and this shows how they are able to rise above negative perception and chase down the truths. We must remember that there are receptionists, beauticians and other professions that now perform travel agency roles with other agencies – they too had to adapt and learn.

She added: “InteleTravel is a very different business in the UK, from 10 months ago, where mandatory regulatory training and testing is required before agents are permitted to trade with partners. When agents attend events now, they have also researched their suppliers, completed product training and eager to provide their customers with accurate information.”

Falcone, who used to appear in ITV2 hit The Only Way is Essex, posted on the Facebook page for his new venture Maximise Travel that he wanted to hire people “who love travel, want to earn more money and want to work alongside me”.

After he expressed his desire to recruit 50 people for the project, the page adds: “No experience needed, I’ll be mentoring you in becoming part of the travel industry from the comfort of your own home alongside your job, kids or other commitments.”

InteleTravel, which was granted Abta membership in March, charges recruits a sign-up fee of £142 and monthly membership fee of £32 to access its commercial rates and booking engine.

Reacting to news of Falcone joining InteleTravel, Travel Counsellor Christine Guy said on Facebook: “He’ll get £35 for every gullible fan that signs up and then the pyramid starts.

“I’m sure he’ll have no interest in selling holidays but it’s the harm it might do to the reputation of genuine experienced homeworkers that is the worry.”

“Pyramid selling at its finest,” said Sarah Lake, of Holidays Please. “Why don’t you start off booking 50 people’s hols [sic] and then you can start to scratch the surface of the travel industry.”

The InteleTravel spokeswoman reiterated that Falcone must complete his mandatory training before he can sell any holidays. She added: “He may be a celebrity but he is not treated any differently to any other InteleTravel agent. He has yet to pass his mandatory training, and we will monitor this closely given his profile. We have no interest of his personal ambition – but we do require him to act in a professional manner and remain compliant at all times.”

Posting below the line on Travel Weekly’s story announcing Falcone had joined InteleTravel, Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, said: “A very interesting concept, a man with not a single day’s experience in a travel business proposes to mentor 50 others, with no experience. This may not be a pyramid selling business but it looks pretty close to it and the customers can be reassured that it all has Abta approval.”

InteleTravel now has a UK arm having operated in the US since the early 1990s. As of last month, it had 2,500 recruits – up from 1,800 when it was granted membership of Abta.

It has been accused of pyramid selling before. But president James Ferrara categorically denied the claims when they were put to him at a Travel Weekly business breakfast panel discussion on the Future of Travel Selling. He has said the company makes its money through its share of commission from holiday sales as well as sign up and membership fees.

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InteleTravel granted Abta membership

Trade reacts to InteleTravel Abta membership

InteleTravel boss blasts critics and ‘misinformation’

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