Abta has been reported to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) by Travel Counsellors, which claims members have been misleading customers by claiming they offer full financial cover.
Travel Counsellors has sent the watchdog a dossier of examples of what it argues are misleading claims by Abta members, including firms represented on the Abta board and its Council of Regions.
The agency, which operates a trust to protect client monies, decided to act after the collapse of Express Bookers, which said customers were “fully covered” due to its Abta membership.
Chairman David Speakman highlighted advice issued by Abta in 2010 warning members not to use phrases like “fully bonded” or “all travel services are protected under our Abta bond”.
But he said Abta had failed to crack down on the practice, and because ignoring the advice was not policed as a Code of Conduct offence, members routinely flouted it.
“Over the last two years we have brought this issue to Abta’s attention, asking it to not just issue advisory notes, which members can disregard,” said Speakman. “Abta can claim it has always advised its members, yet still duck any consequences by appearing to do the right thing.
“It was never our intention to debate this in the public domain, but this continued lack of clarity misleads the customer, the trade, the press and its members.”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said the association has “a rigorous system of measures in place . . . to ensure members trade fairly and provide accurate information.”
He said the association conducts spot checks on members and those that fail to amend or remove the wording could be charged under association rules governing how members advertise their services.
“Abta has for many years worked with the OFT to enforce transparency across the industry,” Tanzer added.
He said claiming wrongly that members are fully bonded “is a breach of the Code of Conduct because the code states that members must not mislead with their advertising.
“Advertising is defined widely and includes websites,” he said. “We provide members with guidance on how to refer to their Abta membership publically and anyone found to be in breach of the code may be charged.”
Mark Tanzer’s response in full:
“In this case, Travel Experts Ltd, trading as Expressbookers, was fully bonded with Abta to sell accommodation only. Abta has a rigorous system of measures in place, designed to ensure that members trade fairly and provide accurate information.
These include monitoring procedures, Code of Conduct investigations and Membership review procedures. We monitor member websites through a system of spot checks, with the aim of ensuring that customers are not provided with misleading information, whether this is by accident or design.
Abta members have around 9,500 registered web addresses, we don’t monitor web content 24/7 but, through our system of spot checks, any member that is found making a misleading claim will be asked to remove it or amend it.
Failure to do so will likely result in a charge being brought against that member under Abta’s Code of Conduct. In the vast majority of cases, members act quickly to amend any inaccurate information before they are penalised, however any member found to be in breach of the code may be charged and, as a result, fined or ultimately expelled from the association.
ABTA has for many years worked with the Office of Fair Trading to enforce transparency across the industry, and we will continue to do so.”
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