Travel Daily sits down with Paul Fakley, Development Director, ABTOT
What differentiates you from your competitors?
ABTOT is a unique association in the UK travel market. We work primarily with small to medium sized travel organisers that sell holiday packages directly to their customers and who are specialists in their field. That could be a charity running 1-2 trips a year or an established tour operator organising multiple excursions every month. Unlike other bonding schemes we offer a simplified “no frills” approach to financial protection that makes compliance easy and affordable for SME travel organisers.
We’re excited to have launched our new ABTOT Combined service to members which covers both licensable (flight-inclusive) and non-licensable (non-flight) turnover from one body. We’re one of few in the industry that offers a straightforward and cost-effective bonding service for total financial protection in-house, removing the need for many to deal with both the regulator and a trade body for their financial protection requirements.
In an industry first, ABTOT also now has a low-cost, highly competitive card payment facility for members. ABTOT will take on some of the responsibilities of the merchant acquirer, ensuring all claims will be met by us in case of a member’s collapse or failure. It’s a simple and straightforward facility with reduced fees, admin and reporting. It also overcomes another complexity within the travel regulations and consumer credit regime over who pays if a travel organiser goes into liquidation.
How has the association evolved since its founding?
ABTOT was founded 24 years ago in response to the 1992 Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) which were the result of a desire to harmonise EU wide rules and encourage cross border trade. ABTOT was created out of a need to provide a straightforward, practical and economical way for specialist SME travel organisers to comply with their obligations under the PTRs.
Since 1993, the industry has evolved rapidly and ABTOT and its members have had to evolve along with it. The next big change will be the implementation of the Package Travel Directive 2015. The new Directive will significantly extend the protection offered to consumers, which may require some travel organisers to change their business models and procedures.
In anticipation of the changes ABTOT has been helping members with guidance on what the changes will mean for them and how to ensure continued compliance. The launch of our new services is designed to help with one of the main hurdles that still exists – multiple parallel sides to consumer financial protection (licensable, non-licensable travel alongside consumer credit rules). The new ABTOT services makes life easier for SME travel organisers within this complexity.
Many of your members have been with you since the association began, why do you think this is?
Our members are experts at what they do with vast knowledge about the destination and/or activity that they handle. We have supported many members from humble beginnings through to established, successful travel organisers, and offer financial protection for start-ups who are often overlooked in the industry. Each ABTOT member is individually selected based on their reputation and skill to ensure only the leading travel organisers are accepted into the bonding scheme. This means we can guarantee that ABTOT members comprise of only the highest quality independent tour organisers.
There is always an element of risk involved when taking on a new member, especially if they are a start-up. Many of our members began life as very small or occasional organisers and we’ve always strived to help them grow. Inevitably during the growth of those businesses there can be good times and bad. There are many instances where we have supported ABTOT members through the hard times and they have then gone on to grow significantly as a result.
In the financial protection industry it takes years to develop a trusting relationship between organiser and provider. By nurturing our members from start to finish we have helped them develop into sustainable enterprises and won their loyalty and business in return.
How do you plan to increase your membership numbers and awareness within the travel trade?
For the last 24 years ABTOT has had a healthy growth in members, mostly through word of mouth and from links with complementary trade organisations. The current complexity involved with financial protection in the UK travel industry can be a significant burden for our target members. Most within the industry are looking for simplicity in order to comply with the Package Travel Directive (PTD). We’re working hard on new initiatives in order to help simplify the process for members in any way we can, raising awareness of our expertise and encouraging SME travel organisers to come to us for guidance throughout the changes.
In our efforts to expand our presence within the industry we have appointed Rooster PR to raise awareness of ABTOT and raise the profile of the exciting developments ahead of the new PTRs. As the industry faces major changes ahead, it is a crucial time for us to grow and expand, sharing our advice with the travel industry and expanding our membership numbers further.
What new initiatives do you have in place for 2017?
ABTOT is evolving and responding to market changes just as our members have to. This summer we launched an industry-first merchant services facility and the new ABTOT Combined all-in-one bonding service. The new ABTOT Combined service will streamline the bonding process, providing financial protection for both licensable and non-licensable travel packages (flight-inclusive and non-flight packages) in agreement with the CAA.
With so much in the news about the caps on credit card payments, our newly launched merchant services facility will be welcome news for travel organisers. The facility is designed to provide an outstanding card payment protection deal in a transparent and easy-to-understand format.
Under the merchant services facility we’re adopting some of the responsibilities of a merchant services acquirer, taking on some of the risk ourselves and offering members exclusive access to a low-cost, highly competitive payment card facility. We will ensure simplified rates and bonding card payments within a transparent, easy-to-understand rating structure.
This is the first time a travel trade association has launched two high profile facilities like this at once and we are thrilled to be able to offer these all-encompassing financial services, simplifying compliance for travel organisers as well as saving them money.