By BRUCE Piper
When Excite Holidays ceased to be ATAS-accredited in late 2018, the move was accompanied by silence. Neither AFTA nor Excite have ever formally commented on the pullout, apart from AFTA noting the “voluntary withdrawal” on the ATAS website.
In fact readers of other industry publications — which notably carried lots of advertising for the wholesaler — could be forgiven for believing that Excite was going from strength to strength with award wins, technology enhancements, and launches into new markets. Many agents have also confirmed that they were repeatedly reassured by Excite that things were going swimmingly, and that ATAS was simply seen as unnecessary.
However a statement from Excite’s directors, George Papaioannou and Nicholas Stavropoulos, which was read to the first creditors’ meeting late last month, provided the first public confirmation that there was more to it than just a decision that ATAS was no longer relevant.
Expressing “deep regret” for the impact the collapse had had on agents and their clients, the pair also attributed the demise of the business to its lack of ATAS accreditation – confirming that the withdrawal was far from voluntary. The decline started during 2018/19 “as a result of the market’s increased caution in dealing with non-ATAS channels following several high profile collapses in the travel industry,” they said.
If lack of ATAS accreditation was hampering the business, why not just re-join? The answer, of course, is that Excite was not able to satisfy the requirements of ATAS. In fact the statement to creditors confirmed this, saying the company had been — ultimately unsuccessfully — “exploring options to strengthen its balance sheet to enable it to rejoin ATAS as soon as possible”.
So why wasn’t Excite just kicked out of ATAS? I believe it’s likely that having been threatened with termination, the company made the most of the “procedural fairness” provisions of the ATAS Charter — introduced in response to the protracted, and very expensive, legal battle some years back when the now disgraced Bestjet challenged its termination from the scheme.
A “voluntary withdrawal” certainly avoided a repetition of that costly scenario. As I know from personal experience, Excite Holidays was highly litigious, and thought little of making aggressive legal threats.
It’s cold comfort for those who have lost thousands, but the big picture is that in the end the system worked. At the point of its failure Excite had not been part of ATAS for over 12 months. AFTA CEO Jayson Westbury had made repeated comments about dealing with non-accredited entities, which many chose to ignore.
Those impacted have learnt a very hard lesson, but let’s hope that the ultimate outcome is a stronger ATAS and a stronger industry, which will benefit everyone.