Small Fish Big Ocean

Helping specialist tour operators and activity providers with travel ecommerce

Hi everyone

Does anyone have details of Merchant Facility Providers that are actually providing services to smaller companies in the Travel Industry. We are presently using Voice Commerce who presently retain 5% of our takings for 6months. I understand their terms will be changing next week and may look to retain 10% which could make cash flow tricky! We are now a very successful Tour Operator that has grown hugely in the last 3 years and takes just over 60% of its taking this way. As we do primarily tailor-made holidays, we dont want to integrate the payment system into our website, we just want a virtual terminal.

Having spoken to a another Merchant  Facility Provider yesterday, it seems like Tour Operators and Travel Agents are now being seen as very high risk - the Bank they deal with are bringing this in next month and will therefore not even ask me to submit an application as they wont even consider it.

We actually have a very good record - we have never had to do a refund for a cancellation so this is a little disheartening to be lumped together with companies that are not doing as well as us. 

Any help would be greatly received.

Many thanks

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Hi Sue

A solution would be to have your own merchant account (e.g. with a company like Barlcaycard).... as you have TOPP that should be possible. That would only be a few % (e.g. 2-3), and probably retention for 6 weeks or so (rather than 6 months)

Re taking payments for tailor made tours - I agree you don't have to take the money "online" as part of the online booking process (besides, at that point, often the final product being booked isn't known, so the price isn't set yet, so you can't take the full or deposit payment)....... BUT what you can do (e.g. with systems like our own TourCMS) - is send an email based payment request AFTER you have priced up the tailor-made tour - the customer then gets a "if you like this quote / itinerary please pay your deposit"- and a web link - which takes the customer to a web based payment page - money goes into your bank account (merchant account) etc etc..... nice smooth process that works great for tailor-made tours.... 

Not trying to pitch TourCMS (we pay for the running of these forums) just pointing out that online payments for tailor-made tour companies are actually increasingly popular..... but doesn't mean you have to put the payment system into your initial booking process... 

Hi Sue,

Best of luck with following the route suggested by Alex.

If you find it difficult to obtain your own merchant facilities through Barclaycard direct then we (PTS) may be able to offer an alternative through our business model.

Due to the type of financial protection we provide to our members (client/trust account) we have a strong working relationship with HSBC which allows us to provide online merchant facilities to members that use our type of financial protection. We currently have a 100% success rate of gaining merchant facilities for our applicants (this also includes new start ups)

It is an option for you to resolve your problem but it would mean changing the method of protecting your clients funds which may (or may not) work with your already efficient business model.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask me.


Kris Hall

Hi Sue

As you say, travel is deemed to be high risk. Therefore, outside of a trust account route, the only merchants actively looking for travel accounts are Barclays and First Data.

I don't have any direct contacts at Barclaycard (it is an online application) but I have a contact at First Data, if this of interest.


Matt l
Hi Sue

No problem, just waiting to hear back from him to see if he is happy for me to put his contact details in this section so I can share them with everyone or whether he will want me to send them to you.


Unfortunately, he won't let me put his details on this site, so I have emailed them to you.


Hi Sue

May be worth you having a quick chat with TOPP again to see if any other options as I know people who had it with merchant facilities with either Streamline or Barclays merchant facilities (and that was what we were discussing with TOPP when we looked at moving over to them). It was only for tour ops (did not cover agent business) but assuming you don't do much agency sales. Do share if they say anything interesting! 

As Alex says they may want to hold back 6 weeks which is better than 6 months, but you'd have to make a call on whether waiting for 5-10% for 6 months is better or worse than 100% for 6 weeks.

Afraid there's no point comparing individual businesses, they don't care. Since (it seems to me anyway) the ATOL scheme effectively expected the credit card industry to underwrite the travel industry, it's too risky for them. And they don't want to go into the ins and outs. I've heard worse stories, e.g. company trading over 10 years without a single chargeback etc having 100k held back.

Best wishes


Sue, how did you get on with First Data? Did you have similar to Nick (below)?



We are now having major issues, despite being a small profitable bonded successful ski company who are also with Voice Commerce we have been told that as RBS have bought them out (or taken a stake) they are trying to withdraw from the travel business. Thus we approached First Data who have just come back and said that they will only take us on if they retain 35% of the takings until they get to a total of £225,000 I though they were joking at first but they were not! How would a business survive?


We have never been in debt and employ 35 people who will all be made redundant if we cannot get merchant facilities so If anybody has any suggestions I would also be grateful - I do wonder what David Cameron would say!



Nick - sorry to hear that.

You could become TTA members in order to get the merchant facilities. Or if you have a profitable business with at least 2 years accounts (and your turnover is at least 100k) you can apply for TOPP. They are not taking on new businesses but are taking on businesses with a trading history.

I just called them to double check.

They did on the phone say the merchant facilities are no longer with Streamline. Guess this is linked to RBS and travel. But if they'll accept you as a member, merchant facilities are virtually guaranteed and you wouldn't have the cashflow issue.

I don't know if you do any flight inclusive but if you do, then you're ok on that front as they have a franchise deal with the CAA.



We used to be with TTA but the trust account was difficult to manage as we have to pay our chalet owners before the client goes on holiday but we are reconsidering!!. However we are already with ABTOT which is affiliated already to Travel and General who arrange our bond and we pay over £15k per year for our bond and it was them who put us in touch with First Data!! So I really don't know why we are paying £15k per year for a bond and now despite being profitable being penalised to such an extent to make it unworkable to stay in business   - its mind boggling to say the least but I am glad I have found this site!





Ah. Would Travel & General be willing for you to move across to TOPP?

The TTA is not as cumbersome as it used to be on cashflow because of Fidelity plus. It is paperwork to get suppliers set up + there is a extra charge per passenger on Fidelity plus, but we find it worth it.

I will take a look at that - I do feel perhaps its a horrible dream or they have made a gross error








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