Opinion: I make no apologies for how Abta runs its convention

Opinion: I make no apologies for how Abta runs its convention

The days of cheaper rates for agents to attend have gone, says Abta chairman Noel Josephides

One of the drawbacks of being Abta chairman is having to field awkward questions – the why, where and how queries regarding our association.

I go to as many regional meetings as I can because it gives members an opportunity to get any niggles off their chest. Happily, every so often I hear a compliment too.

The thorny question of Abta’s Convention came up at a recent Midlands meeting so I thought I’d give a little background to explain why the Convention has become what it has. Old hands, including me, remember conventions as they used to be.

“Why no flights from Birmingham to Kalamata?” was the cry, and no doubt Manchester agents would echo the view.

Well, of course, there is a flight from Birmingham to Kalamata and also one from Manchester, and the initial intention was to extend these flights to cover the Convention.

However, the Greek economic crisis put paid to that as neither Thomas Cook nor Sunvil, which share the flight, was prepared to risk extending the season. Many agents don’t realise what an enormous risk tour operators take when they operate charter flights. I have many sleepless nights over the course of a season.

Convention locations

Three years ago easyJet also started flying to Kalamata from Gatwick, a route established by tour operators. I assume it did not want to risk a service to a relatively unknown destination from a regional airport.

So Abta, despite its best intentions, was left with just Gatwick flights provided by Aegean, which kindly agreed to provide a charter series to cover the Convention.

Since I’ve been chairman, Abta’s Convention has been held in Dubrovnik, Ljubljana and now Messinia. One of the reasons has been to introduce the trade to these regions.

Consider how popular Croatia has become, and there is no doubt Slovenia and Ljubljana are now on the map.

I make no apologies that Abta chooses relatively unknown locations. I attend regional meetings all over the UK. I don’t expect these to be in London just because it suits me.

About 500 delegates will attend the Convention, of whom about 25% will be agents. Attendees come from all over the UK, not just near Gatwick, and they attend because of what they hope to learn, to network and to visit a new destination.

Agent discounts

“Too expensive” is another cry. “Agents should pay far less.” Unfortunately, those days are gone. Distribution has changed. The large tour operators no longer rely as heavily on agents.

No destination – except the oil-rich Arab states – is flush with cash. All of us must pay our way. Airlines sell seats direct to the public at cheaper rates than to the industry, and hoteliers no longer have to rely on tour operators when they have Booking.com and Expedia to fill beds.

There is also competition in terms of conferences from Advantage, Worldchoice, Elite, Aito, Aito Agents, the ITT and so on. The consortia have taken the mantle of the agent/operator relationship and do a good job.

Abta is different. Abta seeks to educate, to stimulate, to push delegates into thinking on a higher plane.

I am proud of what Abta does and make absolutely no apologies for how it runs the Travel Convention.


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