Abta’s role is to issue accurate information on the coronavirus crisis rather than launch a campaign to promote travel, its legal chief has insisted.

Speaking during Travel Weekly’s Facebook Live Q&A, Abta’s director of legal affairs Simon Bunce said the association was employing a “calm and correct” approach on the coronavirus situation.

His comments followed calls from some agents and operators for a campaign to promote a positive message about travel amid high-profile, negative publicity in the media.

MoreLatest coronavirus news and updates

He said: “Abta’s role in this is calm and correct. We want consumers to be calm and give the correct information and to help them to be calm. Our job is to get that sense of perspective.

“There are relatively few places that the Foreign Office is advising against [travel to]. Travel is low risk apart from where the FCO says not to go to.

“We have got to get the facts out there. That’s what we are all attempting to do. If customers can be shown what the reality is, that is our job.”

As part of this Abta has revealed it will be hosting a conference call with members next Tuesday morning to provide an update on the coronavirus situation and field any questions.

Bunce added: “There is a role for everybody in this, for tourist boards, tour operators and agents, in getting the message out there about particular destinations.

“I feel that over time there will be a sense of clarity and settling down with the news agenda.”

Facebook Live: Coronavirus Q&A


Kuoni senior sales and operations manager Brad Bennetts said he was confident consumers would travel but suggested the trade had to focus on positive messages about travel longer term rather than short term.

“People will want to travel. There may be a short term lull. It’s about creating that sense of positivity and talking about next year and what is to come,” he said.

The panel also discussed the question of customer details not being passed on to operators in crisis situations, such as the coronavirus.

Bunce insisted it was down to tour operators and travel agents to discuss this issue as part of their own commercial agreements but added: “There has to be up to date and effective emergency contact details, whether it’s the agent’s or customer’s.”

Coronavirus Q&A panel

L-R: Travel Weekly’s Lucy Huxley, Simon Bunce, Brad Bennetts and Matt Gatenby

But Bennetts said Kuoni would be a “firm supporter” of Abta taking the lead on this issue and insisting the provision of emergency client details was mandatory.

He said: “I think it’s vital and we need to get to a better place as an industry. Any sensible operator is not going to be using that data for anything other than that [emergencies].

“We were exposed in the Thomas Cook [failure] situation on that but I think it came to the fore. Since Thomas Cook we have been insisting on that information [from agents].”

Bunce said Abta’s code of conduct had been updated since the failure of Thomas Cook to ensure that in the event of a collapse, customer data could be more easily accessed by Abta and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Travlaw senior partner Matt Gatenby said agents needed to trust operators not to use this information, for example, in direct marketing.

He said: “If something bad did happen, there is clearly a trust issue and it needs to be pushed through.”