More than 50 travel agents have signed a petition urging Abta to change its policy on how it refunds Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) bookings, warning they make take legal action if the dispute is not resolved.
As reported by TTG on 19 February, agents have continued to challenge the association over having to reimburse their commission after only some refunds from the collapsed cruise line were paid in full.
Abta has maintained it will only refund the net value of bookings cancelled due to Covid-19 before CMV’s parent firm South Quay Travel & Leisure failed on 20 July last year.
The association has covered in full bookings that were cancelled as a result of CMV’s failure.
An Abta spokesperson previously told TTG that the Package Travel Regulations and its financial protection programme have “never covered, nor been intended to cover, commission payments in addition to proving a refund to consumers”.
However, agents have voiced their frustrations over how paying net refunds to customers has exposed commission earnings. They have also accused Abta of “moving the goalposts”, claiming the way the association updated its member guidance on refund credit notes (RCN) in the months that followed the line’s failure was a way of "vindicating its stance retrospectively".
A petition entitled Should ABTA refund all CMV customers 100% and protect its members from financial loss? was created by Cruise Circle managing director Jason Daniels last month, calling on Abta to reconsider its position and apologise.
The petition has been sent to the association’s director of legal affairs Simon Bunce, alongside a number of questions relating to the dispute on which agents are seeking clarity.
Daniels, who is acting as a spokesperson for the group, told TTG: “Abta haven’t listened to us individually – maybe they will listen when we act with one voice. More than 50 Abta agents have petitioned them on the matter, surely they have to take it seriously now?
“We’ve put direct questions to [Abta] alongside the petition, we expect straight answers – not sound bites lacking any substance.”
Daniels urged Abta to clarify a number of issues, including the alleged change in RCN policy.
Documents from Abta sent to agents in December, 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.”
Daniels also called on Abta to clarify whether its position on CMV refunds was “a result of there not being enough money available in the CMV bond?” and to explain “who Abta is responsible to?” when making such decisions, which he said had “such a devastating impact on its members”.
In his email, Daniels told Bunce there was “a lot of bad feeling amongst members” around CMV refunds.
“I sincerely hope Abta does the right thing and changes its position. If not, the next step is likely to be a collective challenge on the legality of its actions,” he wrote.
In response, an Abta spokesperson said: “We have received the petition and will be responding to the member businesses that have signed it.
“The petition has 50-plus signatories, who come from nine Abta-member companies in total and we will be engaging with those membership contacts directly.”