Abta chief Mark Tanzer defended the association’s stance on refunds and refund credit notes today ahead of opening the Travel Convention.

Speaking immediately before opening Abta’s first virtual Convention, Tanzer said: “We have to recognise that the mechanism of refunds and financial protection were not able to cope with the tsunami of refund claims.

“We need to take a hard look at all that. But the existing system of bonding has worked.”

Tanzer acknowledged: “It has been a very challenging six months for Abta and for the industry. But there isn’t anything I would have done differently.

“When we introduced refund credit notes it was because we knew refunds couldn’t be paid within 14 days. It put us in a difficult position with customers and with some in the industry, but we had to do it.”

He insisted: “We were in very early with the government saying ‘This is where we run out of money, this is where we need support’.

“We weren’t the only sector in there, but our voice was heard.”

Tanzer added: “Abta has been engaged with government from the beginning. We believe we helped get furlough up and running. We also called early for regional travel corridors.

“We have made the case for outbound travel.

He argued: “This is the biggest crisis the industry has faced. It isn’t going to be a smooth recovery.

“But there are reasons for optimism. People are booking for next year. It’s a cliché to say this, but there is an opportunity to build back better.”

Delivering his opening address to the Convention, Tanzer said: “Now is not the time to go into the legal debates on cancellation rights and obligations.

“But it’s beyond dispute that the issue of refunds has dominated the first six months of Covid for the industry and created a lot of consumer anger and mistrust.

“Abta has been in the middle of this storm, in developing the concept of refund credit notes to protect customers’ refunds when they could not be paid immediately, and in handling the tens of thousands of refund claims following failures.

“Every day we experience directly the customers’ anger and we empathise with all our members who are having such difficult conversations.

“What is our strategy for dealing with this tsunami? First, it’s to try to stop it growing, to prevent more company failures.

“And in addition to the government acting on Foreign Office advice and testing, we also need direct sector support.”