Online agents may create own lobbying group

Online travel agencies and dynamic packaging suppliers within Abta are likely to set up their own lobbying group to try to influence policy decisions on the revised European Package Travel Directive.

It is understood that Abta is assisting the group, including On Holiday Group, Travel Republic, On The Beach and Lowcost Holidays, to seek a lobbyist but it remains unclear whether it will lobby from within Abta or standalone.

The move comes after claims from Abta members, including On Holiday Group, that Abta is failing to suport its agent members by favouring of a widening of the scope of the European Commission Package Travel Directive that would include dynamic packaging.

Simon Cooper, chief executive of On The Beach, said it was in favour of a minimisation of the scope of regulation from the EC.

But he said there is a belief that the EC is more inclined to opt to maximise the level of regulation to widen the scope of what should be protected and that this should be resisted.

“At the moment we are still talking to Abta about it,” he said. “It’s probably likely we will try to lobby directly as a small group of OTAs.

“I think we have to accept that if we want our voice to be heard outside of the crowd we have to go direct.”

Despite claims that Abta was favouring its tour operator members of agents in its lobbying in Europe, Cooper said Abta was trying to represent the wider membership.

“If you stand back and look at it they are doing what they have to do representing the different types of companies within the organisation,” Cooper said.

“If they try to lobby for a position that they cannot win they risk not being listened to at all.”

Cooper said there was a strong argument for future legislation to be light touch but that indications from Europe appear to suggest that it will favour a more rigorous approach.

“Ultimately we share the same goal – less regulation is preferable to more – but you have to be realistic in thinking that Abta wants to take a message to Europe that they think they have a chance of winning. They want to be listened to,” he said.

“I have always been in favour of clarity and of having and a regime that covers repatriation. I have always said why not a point of sale insurance.”

Cooper said what is believed to be the EC’s view to widen the scope of the regulation would only achieve shifting a small part of the travel sector, currently known as Flight-Plus in the UK, into the area of full packages.

However he said this would still leave a huge area of discrepancy including accommodation-only, website click throughs and firms not based within the EU outside of the scope of the regulation and with a competitive advantage.

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