InteleTravel UK could soon secure an Atol despite comments from industry figures its newly gained Abta membership risks “devaluing the brand”.
A spokesperson for the homeworking agency confirmed to TTG this week it had begun its Atol application process and had also seen “immense interest from larger suppliers” around partnering.
InteleTravel UK joined Abta on March 20 after a two-year process requiring the company to prove compliance with industry regulations, including training of its members around financial protection.
Speaking to TTG, John de Vial, Abta’s director of financial protection and financial services, said: “Ultimately, it is up to travel suppliers if they choose to work with them and customers to choose if they want to book.
“It is Abta’s job to represent the whole industry and business models of different kinds. They have met our criteria for compliance and so membership has been granted.”
The decision was met with intense debate online.
Alistair Rowland, group general manager specialist retail, Midcounties Co-operative and Abta board member, questioned how Abta would be able to regulate its new member on account of InteleTravel UK’s reported 1,800 members’ potential lack of travel experience and strategy of posting deals on social media.
“If you believe they have [almost] 2,000 members and each is posting 10 times a day on social media, that’s an incredible amount of time to inspect them all. I honestly don’t think Abta can manage that effectively with its current resources,” he said.
“It’s the quality of the Abta brand and what it stands for and that quality being challenged that concerns me – when you have people selling travel just in their spare time trading as an Abta member. Time will tell if it was the right decision.
"For me, Abta will go on a journey with InteleTravel in the way it shapes its membership criteria going forward.
“I remain a loyal follower of Abta and what it stands for, but I am not a fan of this decision. That said, the same could have been said of homeworking when it came to market as a new model and now this is a highly respected route to market.”
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies and Abta’s former head of legal services, said he was “frankly amazed” by the decision, adding: “It could be very damaging for [Abta’s] reputation if things go wrong.
"In the long run, I can’t see InteleTravel agents as competition to the expertise of [existing] traditional agents, but in the short-term, it’s a risk for the industry.”
InteleTravel UK’s spokesperson said industry reaction to its Abta membership was “as expected” and it would “continue to work closely with Abta” and its members were “focused on education and training”.
“As time goes on, the industry will see we are a professional organisation delivering for our suppliers and customers,” she said.