VIVID Travel, led by Kane Pirie, the instigator of the It’s Right to Refund Campaign, has resigned its ABTA membership with immediate effect, just one month after re-joining.
The company had initially joined the association in July 2017, then left in October 2019, and rejoined in March.
Agents on social media questioned why the company keeps changing its mind, with some suggesting the latest move was a publicity stunt.
Pirie said he had ‘no alternative’ to leave this week as his business ‘fundamentally disapproves’ of ABTA’s stance on refunds.
But ABTA said it was confused by his reasons.
“We find Mr Pirie’s rationale for resigning rather confused,” said a spokesman.
“We believe there is a lot of common ground between his position and ABTA’s in that he recognises that companies cannot pay refunds in 14 days, and that customers need to have their refund right preserved and protected. This precisely reflects our guidance.
“We urgently need Government action to clarify the situation for all concerned, including on establishing a suitable payment window for refunds. Any end date proposed shouldn’t remove the expectation that customers will be paid without undue delay.”
ABTA has asked the Government to amend the Package Travel Regulations to extend the 14-day refund window for holidays cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, it is suggesting to members that, where acceptable to clients, they issue Refund Credit Notes instead of cash refunds.
Initially, ABTA suggested the RCNs should be valid up until the end of July, but it has since issued new guidance suggesting that those members who have a valid ATOL licence up to next March can issue RCNs with an expiry date of March 31, 2021.
Research by Which? has since discovered that the majority of tour operators are issuing credit notes instead of cash refunds where clients opt not to rebook.
“I have supported ABTA since 2005 but now we have no alternative other than to resign VIVID Travel’s membership,” said Pirie. “As a business we fundamentally disapprove with the position that ABTA has taken in proposing customers should wait for refunds over an extended period, in some cases into 2021, and want to clearly disassociate and distance ourselves from this membership organisation.
“We have already removed all reference to ABTA from our website as we now see the ABTA brand as shattered. It is associated in the minds of the consumer with an ill-judged attempt to force them to grant over-extended interest free loans to ABTA members.
“We recognise ABTA members face enormous financial strain but believe that could have been solved fairly by a simple grace period through to 31 July 2020.
“As a former ABTA board director, I have tried hard to find common ground with ABTA but to no avail. We could have supported the ABTA Credit Refund Notes proposal provided it did not extend beyond that date which indeed ABTA first promoted, and if the CAA had confirmed it was lawful with full ATOL protection.
“We can conceive of no justification for asking consumers to finance ABTA members for any longer than a reasonable period of time within which ABTA members can raise finance from the conventional and proper channels.
“In short, the ABTA position is too orientated towards travel companies / ABTA members and neglects a proper concern for the consumer, for some of whom, the timing of the refund is critical.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank ABTA for all the support extended to VIVID Travel during our period of membership.”
Pirie’s Its Right to Refund campaign was launched earlier this month and now has more than 15,000 followers.
ABTA’s Save Future Travel Campaign, in which it is urging the Government to relax the Package Travel Regulations, has been widely supported by the travel industry and has resulted in more than 24,000 letters sent to MPs in support of ABTA’s recommendations.