At Abta’s AGM on Wednesday (26 June), I ended my term as chairman after six years. How I ever got to be chair of Abta still baffles me. I’ve never been a corporate man and was not spawned from Tui, Airtours or one of the other large corporations that dominate our industry.
In fact, in the old days, I was seen to be very much anti-Abta and against large companies. I remember Harry Chandler, who was chairman of Abta many years ago, asking me how I dared to be anti-establishment and to attack Thomson, Thomas Cook and Airtours.
Perhaps I’ve mellowed, or perhaps I no longer feel that what one might call “legacy operators” are a threat to fair play in the industry or to the wellbeing of destinations.
I cannot believe how much the industry has changed in the past six years. Then, the likes of Airbnb, Booking.com, Kayak, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Trivago were still in their infancy.
Now they dominate the industry. In fact, if you look closely, all these brands belong to a handful of companies – all American. It’s all about technology, and about making travel a commodity.
All airlines are now effectively low-cost carriers and they all make an increasing percentage of their profits from ancillary sales. In fact, they are all becoming tour operators. It is the airlines that control capacity, and charter airlines have all but disappeared.
There is hardly any distinction now between tour operators and travel agents – and who would have thought that there would be thousands of homeworkers?
Many of these, who transitioned from bricks-and-mortar shops, are well-trained and highly professional, while others are completely inexperienced.
Six years ago, cruising was for the elderly and cruise had not yet attracted one million devotees annually. Now we have passed two million and the numbers are still rising.
In fact, without cruise and the now fashionable long-haul tailor-made holidays, most travel agents would not be here because there is no money to be made from operating single-centre holidays in Europe unless those single-centre hotels are all-inclusives.
Our customers are getting bolder and bolder, buying components from multiple suppliers and feeling clever that they have done away with our services. All is hunky-dory until something goes wrong and then they discover that there is nobody there prepared to help.
Those of us who are unlucky enough to have to play by the rules have discovered that we are at a serious disadvantage compared with those who pay no tax and do not subscribe to the increasingly onerous regulations.
So do we still need Abta? The stability and help our association brings in these dangerous times is more important than ever, and those who bleat “what does Abta do for me?” have no idea what they are talking about. Without Abta to guide us through the regulation jungle, we would all be considerably worse off.
Noel Josephides is a director of Aito
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