Out of the blue the Government has announced that it is taking action to ensure consumers are aware of the links between tour operators and agents.
This, 19 months after the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report was published making it clear that transparency was an issue, is not exactly treating the matter with the urgency that the Association of Independent Tour Operators has always felt was necessary.
Now a new deadline of September 15 has been set for written representations, and again AITO will be pressing for quick action.
There is a clear need for clients to be aware of the fact that the agency they are using to book their holiday is selling them a product from its own stable of companies.
The public does expect an agent to advise and assist and to sell them the right holiday – this is not the case at present.
The announcement by the Government will go some way to addressing this issue and we must give it our support, though I also think that it raises other points.
Not all of the proposals will be seen as good news for independent operators and agents.
AITO has campaigned for seven years on this topic and it is important for all of us in the industry to recognise that consumers must be put first.
Officials at the Department of Trade and Industry have apparently turned down the suggestion that fascia boards should show links between operators and agents, as recommended by the MMC.
A second line of defence is notices in shop doors and windows, plus notification of links in brochures, on invoices and on letterheads.
While independent agents may not be happy to have, for example, every Airtours brochure in their shop promoting Going Places, the big companies should be prevailed upon to print plain editions of their brochures for the independents.
The practice of different print runs is already widespread in the form of own-label brochures and it will be an easy solution to a potential problem.
And as to that date of September 15 – why wait that long, on top of the 19 months’ delay to date?
The DTI should act now on this important issue and treat it with the urgency it merits.
The consumer deserves better than a third holiday season in ignorance of the key issue of transparency.
And MPs, now just starting their own three-month summer holidays, should not be complacent where votes are concerned.
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