Kirsten Hughes, managing director, Travel Counsellors
Not only does a travel supplier failure have a devastating effect on staff and customers, who are always first in our thoughts, it also throws the issue of financial protection back into the public eye.
The sad news of the collapse of Malvern Group – which included LateRooms.com and 36-year old tour operator and short-break specialist Super Break – was directly followed by thousands of customers feeling the effects of no financial protection on accommodation-only bookings.
Many people have said it was Super Break’s responsibility to communicate that gap in protection to their customers. All brands – not just the travel industry – have a responsibility to be open, transparent, create trust and communicate the truth to their customers. Then, with all facts to hand, a customer is empowered to decide if they want to place their money at risk.
I would argue, though, that if we care for our customers, their money should never be put at risk at all.
A recent survey found 88% of people felt more positive seeing the Abta badge, and 59% were more likely to book a holiday with a company displaying one. Yet, for too long, public perception has been that the Abta “stamp of approval” on their travel documentation means complete financial security should anything go wrong.
This is a myth that must be busted if customers are to continue to trust the travel industry, and it should be a key concern for all travel professionals. There have been too many examples and precedents set to see such circumstances continue.
Many of us will remember the collapse of Travelscene back in 2004. Like Super Break, their promotional literature wasn’t clear about the fact that, despite being an Abta member, their accommodation- only bookings were not covered.
Being a member of a well-known industry body does not automatically mean that the travel supplier is bonded. It is unbelievable that 15 years after the collapse of Travelscene we are still tackling the same issues.
Of course, agents stand to lose as much as customers. If customers have paid via credit card, for example, the card providers will be looking to recoup the money from someone.
Rather than pass the responsibility between each other, it should be the concern of every travel professional to ensure their customers are clear on what they’re paying for. We should not be hiding essential information in the small print. That said, travel advisers should not really have to worry about bonding, regulation and protecting themselves at all. They should be free to sell the best travel experiences based on customer preferences without fear of any element of the booking being at risk.
Travel Counsellors, for example, launched a dedicated financial protection scheme in 2004 to protect all customer monies in the event of a supplier failure. While we recognise this is not an option for everyone, there are steps we can all take to minimise risk.
We need to educate ourselves and our customers on financial protection issues, and while events in 2004 may not have motivated the main players to work together to create a system that guarantees all customer money is protected, I think we can all agree the time for such discussions is now.