Travel Republic director Kane Pirie insisted in court yesterday (October 22) that the online retailer does not sell package holidays.
Pirie told Stratford Magistrates Court: “It is clear on our website we do not sell package holidays. We offer an alternative to package holidays.”
Travel Republic and Pirie stand trial for breach of the ATOL regulations in a case that began on October 12 and are accused of offering flights and accommodation in combination and thereby selling unlicensed package holidays. They have been charged by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) with 40 offences.
Pirie told the court: “What we do is sell flights and hotels separately, and do everything to make clear they are separate. We sell them separately and at the same time.” Later he said: “We do not bundle any products.”
He said Travel Republic was concerned about best practice and said: “ABTA was very happy with our approach. I had several meetings with ABTA.”
Pirie recalled a letter from the CAA in September 2007 and a follow-up meeting with CAA officials in February 2008 and said: “I certainly did not want it to end in any conflict. I hoped the CAA would be happy for us to carry on.”
However, he said: “I think they had already made their minds up to get us to get an ATOL.” He added: “ABTA was happy to work with us – [for us] to become an example of how you can sell a flight and hotel and it not be a package. The CAA dismissed that out of hand. They were not interested.”
Pirie conceded: “I was aware the CAA thought we should have an ATOL. They made clear they thought we needed an ATOL. I made clear I thought we did not. We were left with a difficult choice, to accept their view, or stick to what we believed in.”
At one point, Pirie told the court the company had investigated how many holidays it offered with both flights and accommodation available, and had stopped counting at 10 million. Cross-examined by prosecution counsel Ian Croxford as to what he meant by “10 million holidays”, Pirie said: “I do not see them [the flights and accommodation] as in combination.”
Pirie said about half of Travel Republic bookings, worth £230 million in the year to March, include a flight and accommodation or another holiday element. He said the trial had put pressure on the company, which he described as “an important local employer” in Kingston.
The case continues.