By Humphrey Carter
ABTA'S 50th anniversary convention gets underway tonight at the Pueblo Espanyol with over 2'000 delegates having travelled from the UK to Palma for the event. With the travel industry worried about the implications of an increase in air passenger duty tax that travellers pay when leaving the UK, which could cost a family of four an extra £80 to go on holiday, many important issues are going to be discussed and resolved over the next few days. Every year 20 million travellers arrange their holiday through a member of the Association of British Travel Agents and in Palma ABTA members will be looking at ways of making sure that those 20 million clients are looked after as best as possible. This is the world's second largest travel conference and the main theme is “Back to Business”. It will consist of three days of business sessions and workshops which will assist the industry to develop strategies and increase business as it faces the challenges of today's trading environment. That environment includes the growth of e-booking and the independent travel sector and ABTA will be stressing to the industry “without us you're on your own.” The association's members pride themselves on offering expertise, choice, great deals, convenience, security and customer help.
Other challenges facing travel agents and the travel industry as a whole in the UK is the change in the school term format.
For the next 2004/2005 academic year, a number of schools will change from the Standard School Year of three terms to the new six-term school year.
ABTA will reveal today that, so far, few local authorities have signed up to the new format for next year. But it is understood that many more will follow suit for 2005/2006, leading to further changes in Britain's holiday habits which ABTA members have to be ready to respond to in order to meet the needs of their clients. The growth in the independent holiday market has also led to consumer confusion when it comes to travel insurance and consumer protection.
Never leave home without travel insurance is, and always has been, the simple message. However, ABTA believes that existing consumer protection schemes fail to cover all areas of travel due to the growth of no-frills airlines, the internet and an increasing number of travellers making their own arrangements. ABTA will also reveal today plans for a new format of consumer protection which should apply equally across all types of travel.
Two other main themes of the convention are “facing the challenge” and “faith in the future.” Leading television presenter John Stapleton will be chairing the convention and also holding a special “The Time the Place” discussion with a panel of leading tourism experts at the Auditorium, the convention headquarters where the working sessions and lectures are all taking place.


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