Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: ABTA must regain public confidence

Police are investigating very serious allegations which have been levelled at a Downpatrick travel agency.

Dozens of customers have complained that holiday arrangements, including flights and hotel stays, were not booked as promised — and some even claim that unauthorised debits were made from their bank accounts or credit cards.

Obviously the owner of the La Mon Travel Agency, who has a previous conviction for theft, has a lot of explaining to do. But so too have those who regulate the industry. How could a person with a conviction for dishonesty be allowed to run a business where trust is vital? Any one of us who books a holiday through an agency or online does so in the belief that payments will be made and credited according to our instructions.

It appears that the Downpatrick agency was only a member of the Association of British Travel Agents last month and that the membership has since been terminated, when the Association became aware of problems. Customers will want to know what checks or audits ABTA carried out with the firm before admitting it to membership. Did it know the background of the owner? Had it examined the company’s trading practices?

ABTA membership carries a certain reassurance in the public mind. While this agency was only a member for a short time, some people will feel that the ABTA brand has been damaged by association. It is therefore important that ABTA plays a full part in the investigation, not only to reassure customers, but also to restore its own reputation.

While many of those who have made complaints have received at least partial recompense — and others will be able to claim off their credit cards —nothing can compensate those like the honeymoon couple whose dream holiday was wrecked, or the family who were having their first break for thirty years, before finding that flights had not been paid for. Lost money can be recouped over a period, but nothing can ever repair shattered dreams.

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