Agents have launched a petition urging Abta to change its policy on how it refunds Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) bookings, claiming the association “moved the goalposts” after updating guidance to members in the months after the cruise line’s failure.
As reported by TTG on 19 February, agents have repeated their frustrations at having to reimburse commission after only some refunds from the collapsed company were paid out in full.
Abta has said it will only refund the net value of bookings already cancelled due to Covid-19 before CMV’s parent firm South Quay Travel & Leisure failed on 20 July last year.
Abta is covering in full those bookings that were cancelled as a result of CMV’s failure.
In a statement to TTG on 19 February, an Abta spokesperson said the Package Travel Regulations and its own financial protection programme had “never covered, nor been intended to cover, commission payments in addition to providing a refund to consumers”.
Abta has given no indication it will change its stance, prompting Cruise Circle managing director Jason Daniels to create the petition calling on Abta to reconsider.
Daniels’ agency had about 30 affected bookings, losing around £8,000 in commission that would have to be passed back to customers.
He has argued that as CMV had committed to protecting agent commission on bookings cancelled due to Covid – specifically where the balance had already been taken by the agent and the commission earned – Abta should pay the difference between the gross and net booking values.
The petition has so far received the backing of a number of cruise specialist agencies including Vision Cruise, Cruise365, Cruise Select and Ponders Travel.
Nick Belger, commercial and operations director at Vision Cruise, which has lost more than £8,000 in commission across 40 CMV bookings, said he was “really disappointed with Abta’s continued stance on the matter” and said the agency would “do whatever to obtain a U-turn on their decision”.
Michelle Hunter, manager of Connoisseur Travel Services, which had to refund around £4,000 in commission to CMV clients across 15 bookings, added: “The fact Abta is refusing to change their policy, even with the pleas of affected agents, is very disheartening. We hold out hope they will reconsider and listen to the agents they protect.”
According to Daniels, an issue that has angered the group has been alleged amendments to Abta’s Refund Credit Note policy, which he said “vindicated its stance retrospectively".
Documents from Abta sent to agents in December and seen by TTG appear to show additional guidance over RCNs – differing to what was originally sent to members last April.
The later version includes the line: “For bookings made through a travel agent, Abta will pay the net amount that was due back from the travel organiser and require the retail travel agent to provide the balance of the refund due to the consumer, as would be the case if the travel organiser were trading normally.”
“They’ve clearly moved the goalposts on this and not surprisingly, the updated wording vindicated their stance on the CMV failure which happened five months before,” said Daniels. “Changing and making policy up as you go along is not what we need during such challenging times.”
He and other agents were also questioning why every booking was not afforded the same reimbursement status.
“We want to know whether or not there was enough money in the CMV bond to pay all customers 100% of their money back, if there was then it is shameful that they [Abta] have forced vulnerable agents to pay back the commission they had already earned. If there wasn’t, then why?,” said Daniels.
“We need to be confident that the bond scheme our trade body provides to protect our customers, and us, is fit for purpose. Abta are our trade body, we are responsible to them for our actions via a code of conduct, how they have treated their agents on this matter does beg the question, who are Abta responsible to?”
When asked by TTG about the changing wording of the policy and the bond claims, an Abta spokesperson reiterated its previous response, stressing it was “doing all we can” to support members through “extremely difficult times”.
“Where Abta is managing claims for refunds that were cancelled before a failure, and not as a result of the insolvency of the operator, and where the bookings were made through a travel agent, customers can generally expect to receive two payments – one from Abta and one from the travel agent,” said the spokesperson.
“This is because of the way that booking payments are typically managed between travel agents and the tour operators.
“More widely, refunds to customers are managed by Abta through various mechanisms depending on the way that the booking was made, how it was paid for and the type of travel services booked. At the end of the day, the intention is that the customer will receive back 100% of the amount they paid for the travel services.”