The chairman of a group set up to lobby on behalf of agents in European reforms to package travel rules has indicated a significant shift in its position.
Initially the Association of Travel Agents, which was established by a number of online agents, suppliers and agency groups last year, gave a cautious welcome to reform proposals.
It believed that a new classification of travel product, known as ‘assisted travel’, would allow its members to continue trading as they do now under the UK’s Flight-Plus Atol regime.
This allows them to sell component holidays under a single price in one transaction without taking on the full responsibilities of traditional package operators.
However, having taken legal advice and following the latest meeting of the ATA this week, the group now believes further clauses in the reform proposal rule out this option for members.
In his latest blog, chairman Steve Endacott said he now believes the only winners in the PTD reform as it stands will be traditional tour operators, Google and travel giants like Booking.com.
He says the framing of the regulation as set out by the European Commission in June will leave customers who put together holidays via Google untouched by regulation.
However, UK-based online and high street travel agents trying to remain competitive by dynamically packaging trips will be the ones who lose out.
Endacott predicted this will lead to many more firms looking to set themselves up overseas outside of the jurisdiction of European regulators, something that will hit UK travel jobs.
He said “the current drafting will make it very hard for OTAs to continue to deliver these holidays and creates an anti-competitive environment, which could dramatically restrict customer choice”.
“The OTA community provides consumers a lot of convenience and financial security by offering a basket approach to booking a holiday.
“However, the imposition of further regulatory burdens threatens OTAs ability to be cost effective, compared to a customer using Google to book their own components individually.”
He concluded: “The net result could therefore be that the new regulations push more customers away from booking via OTAs, who offer financial protection under Flight-Plus, to unregulated and unprotected holidays.
“The biggest winners under this legislation will be companies like Google and Booking.com, which as we all know pay little tax in the UK, whilst UK-based jobs will be destroyed as many OTAs will be forced to consider relocating to countries that do not impose these burdens or simply shutting down.”
Endacott’s views contrast sharply with an initial reaction in July after the PTD reform proposals were first released.
Then he claimed 90% of what the ATA had wanted had been achieved while other observers suggested the group now needed to disband as it had got its way.
He was quoted as saying: “They [the EC] are happy for agents to remain agents as long as there is a principal in the process and I believe the EC will leave Flight-Plus.
“Most of the nasties have gone. We expected a lot of ‘You have to do this’, but it’s not that tight. I would say we’re fairly happy. It’s practical – a 90% win.”
The ATA, whose founding members includes Hays Travel and TTA and Worldchoice parent The Travel Network Group, is now expected to appeal to the wider agency community in a bid to garner support for its position and stress the potential threat to travel agents.
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