Friday, April 11, 2008

ABTA-FTO merger is a sign of the times

Our latest column in Travel Weekly:

The merger of ABTA and the Federation of Tour Operators says a lot more about the state of the market than many have suggested in the reams of analysis and comment produced over the past week.

We all know the official reason for the merger – and, in turn, have heard countless other suggestions as to why these two once disparate industry bodies are uniting.

Indeed, almost everyone seems to have an opinion on the finances, offices, management structure and lobbying power of the pair, and the new organisation.

What also needs to be looked at is the market context as to why this might and should be happening.

In the past, there was a requirement for two organisations to represent the needs of businesses with seemingly different goals: representing the distribution or the servicing of a product.

But much has changed as the vertically integrated businesses have taken a grip on much of the supply chain – alongside their counterparts in bed bank land – and independents have turned increasingly to bundling their own ‘packages’ together for customers.

Couple those with the concerted effort by operators to bypass the travel agent completely by selling direct via the Internet and take control of the distribution chain, and the borderline between the two types of business is blurring beyond recognition.

Indeed, the idea that a consumer really cares about the structure of a company or its apparent position within an industry is a fallacy.

The primary role of the modern travel company is that of a ‘provider’. Travel companies have to adapt to this new thinking, regardless of where they are in the food chain.

So if the industry’s representative bodies are – perhaps even innocuously – positioning themselves in a better way to take on that new role it can only be a good thing for the sector.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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