The Travel-Rants blog, one of the most popular UK travel blogs, which has a reasonable amount of clout with online consumers and, increasingly, the UK national press, today calls for a ban on affiliate travel sites.
Darren Cronian, the blog's editor, complains that entire websites are being created based on affiliate schemes and are often passing themselves off as holiday websites.
The issue is made all the more confusing, he suggests, by the inclusion of ABTA and ATOL certificates on websites, perhaps leading consumers to believe that they would be protected by one of the schemes.
In some respects, Cronian has a strong argument. He is, as ever, championing the humble consumer as they increasingly shift their travel buying behaviour online.
"Travel companies should be made responsible for monitoring sites using its affiliate programs to ensure that these sites aren’t being created to trick the travel consumer into thinking that they are using a site of an established and bonded travel company."The use of bonding/protection logos to hoodwink consumers is, of couse, something that should be addressed.
However where Cronian's argument perhaps falls down is in his plea to scrap websites which are using affiliate programmes to make money.
Indeed, banning certain websites per se is a thorny issue. The internet has become a fantastic platform for publishing information and creating new business ideas - such as affiliate programmes.
To argue for a ban on affiliate travel websites just because they do not appear to conform to the norm isn't really in keeping with free-spirited nature of the development of the web.
"What some individuals are doing through [sic] is creating complete holiday websites." So what...Should we ban blogs just because we don't agree with what they say? Of course not...
The beauty of the web and the way people use it is that in many ways it is self-policing.
Consumers will realise a site is a dud eventually, whether it is a commerce site, media outlet or blog, social networking site or information portal.
NB: It is worth noting that, putting Cronian's valid protection issue to one side, travel companies enjoy the benefits of the affiliate marketing industry more than most consumers probably realise.
Kevin May, editor, Travolution