The industry’s largest consortium has threatened to end relationships with supplier partners unless they confirm the level of protection they offer agents on their products.
Speaking to TTG at the Abta Travel Convention, Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, said Super Break’s failure to protect accommodation-only bookings – which only emerged following its failure in August – had triggered alarm bells.
“[The collapse of] Super Break highlighted there was a lack of understanding [among agents] of what the risks were,” he said.
“We’ve gone to all 170 business partners to ask if they protect accommodation and whether our members are at risk. We’ve had 165 replies to say what they are doing and if they don’t respond, we will turn them off.”
Lewis said the challenge was to ensure companies keep agents updated if they change their financial protection, and said he was currently in conversation with Abta to push for new rules to force suppliers to alert agents of changes.
He warned the collapse of Super Break had been overshadowed by Thomas Cook’s failure, which he said had also flagged serious concerns about financial protection, particularly for former Freedom Travel Group members.
Freedom comprised 155 consortium agents and 140 Personal Travel Advisors, which operated separately of Cook but went into liquidation following its collapse. Agents were also unable to access existing and forward bookings as well as any client information.
Lewis said The Travel Network Group had signed up “around a dozen” former Freedom members, and he praised companies such as Midcounties Co-operative, which he said had worked hard to provide “great like for like” services for the former Freedom Group members it had signed up.
However he warned a number of former Freedom members had made “knee-jerk reactions” and said many members may end up with the same lack of protection they suffered with Cook, by joining businesses who follow the same model and don’t ring-fence monies, meaning agents would still be unprotected if that business were to fail.
“People have had to make quick decisions – some with a gun against their head, so we understand why they made these decisions. But they’re making a commitment to a business that it’s quick to get in with, but very hard to get out of.”
Lewis expressed frustration with the CAA (which ended up appointing Hays Travel to fulfil the bookings) for not having better fulfilment plans in place, and he said too little time had been given to other companies to bid for the fulfilment contract.
Despite this Lewis praised the CAA for its decision to repatriate all Thomas Cook passengers, regardless of whether they were Atol protected, because many flight-only bookings were with other Atol holder products.