Abta chairman Noel Josephides ended this week’s Travel Convention with a swipe at the emerging peer to-peer sector epitomised in travel by Airbnb.
Josephides said the industry is facing a second online revolution that will not leave any business model unchanged.
“This is the rise of what we call the sharing economy – another name for the growth of the black economy, but presented in a very clever and sympathetic way,” he said.
“The classified adverts and cards in the Post Office window have always been there and we tolerated it because the scale was small.
“What companies such as Airbnb and HouseTrip have cleverly done is to use the internet to provide a platform to allow the black economy to grow.”
Josephides added: “If we assume that the majority of those letting their properties don’t declare their income, can you imagine the enormous loss in the tax take for struggling governments?
“That’s why it’s important we come together to talk about the future so that we can shape it rather than be shaped by it.”
Josephides noted that Zaid Al-Qassab, HouseTrip chief marketing officer, said at the convention that he would welcome the right sort of regulation.
Hoseasons managing director Simon Altham said the peer-to-peer phenomenon was a “hard pill to swallow” and that these brands were “effectively saying that travel agents aren’t needed.”
However, he heralded it as a “huge opportunity for agents” to talk about customer service.
Altham said agents could take advantage by making their service feel like peer-to-peer for their customers, by using the experience of other customers who are advocates of a particular brand.