Abta rejects former member’s criticism of Covid-era decisions

Abta has rejected criticism from a former member of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic when it halved members’ subscriptions for a year but sought to maintain member services and staff salaries.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive said criticisms by Attraction Tickets chief executive Oliver Brendon reflect “a fundamental misunderstanding of how Abta works, how we support members and the benefits we bring”.

Attraction Tickets resigned from Abta in November last year when Brendon set out his grievances in Travel Weekly.

MoreComment: Did Abta do right by members during the pandemic?

He has repeated his complaints in an open letter to Abta published by Travel Weekly today, and Abta has responded in full.

Brendon argues Abta “failed to cut any costs during Covid”, suggesting the association “retained inflated salaries and passed the cost burden to its members by changing the way it calculated subscriptions”.

He points out membership subscriptions had been based on turnover the previous year, but “in 2021 and 2022, Abta based the membership fees on 2019 turnover” and “these rule changes cost my company over £100,000 at the time we could least afford it”.

Brendon questions whether the Abta board considered cutting the association’s costs and suggests: “The right course of action would have been to cut Abta’s costs, ensure the secretariat shared the pain of members and limit that pain by reducing subscriptions.”

He also queries the sale of Abta’s former head office in London, suggesting the money should have been used to reimburse members.

Tanzer has issued “a robust defence against incorrect allegations” in response, noting Abta’s board of directors “is, with one exception, composed of our members” and makes “complex judgment calls knowing full well that, if subscription costs rise, they will themselves have to pay more”.

He insists: “To suggest that we haven’t shared any financial pain is nonsense.”

Tanzer points out Abta “implemented a 50% reduction in member fees” for 2020-21, worth more than £3 million, while its “expert staff worked harder than ever on behalf of members, under intense pressure”.

He notes the most-recent review of Abta services showed “there were no services Abta provides which even a sizeable minority of members wanted us to stop”, and he defends the sale of Abta’s former property in Newman Street “to bring additional funds to provide a long-term source of investment income [and] not to slash fees as a one-off”.

Abta chairman Alistair Rowland also responded, confirming the board debated these issues “at length” and insisting: “The Abta board is anything but a rubber stamp.”

MoreComment: Did Abta do right by members during the pandemic?

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