AFTA View – June 2014

JasonWestburyTHE July 1 commencement of ATAS heralds a new era of equity, commonsense and professionalism.

Five years of discussion and analysis led by Consumer Affairs Ministers and their departments with input from consumer groups and our industry have resulted in the green light to repeal the inconsistent travel agent legislation administered in each state and territory in favour of a deregulated industry.

On top of five years’ consultation and AFTA presentations at all major industry conferences, we’ve also had targeted communications including three rounds of national workshops.

ATAS participation already reflects the majority of the industry in terms of turnover and travel companies and agents including Flight Centre, Helloworld, Magellan, CTM, ITG, MTA, TravelPartners, Travel Counsellors, Travellers Choice, the Travel Corporation plus a growing list of independents and support from CATO is a clear demonstration that the industry has embraced the new scheme. Applications continue to flood in.

In addition to this, ATAS agency owners can choose to supplement the baseline consumer protection provided by the Australian Consumer Law with a range of commercial solutions.

The deregulated market has brought about the introduction of the optional products including the TAIFI insurance product or the Travel Trust Account, or other consumer protection polices administered via brands and head office.

Calls for the TCF’s continuation in the face of the overwhelming consensus for a new regime expose a fundamental lack of understanding of the legislative and political processes.

For the TCF to continue beyond July 1, would have required legislation to pass through 17 houses of Parliament in every state or territory within a shared timeframe. Impossible. (Hypothetically, Federal Legislation could be introduced but, with drafting time and the existing legislative calendar, it would take at least a year – it just isn’t feasible.)

Are those opposing these critical reforms motivated by something other than the industry’s best interests?

While it was possible for a network of home-based agents to operate under a state licence structure (unlike bricks and morta r agencies where each individual agency required individual licences), the new deregulated environment removes that competitive advantage.

However what it also does is allow every travel agent in Australia to have home based workers without the need to have their front bedroom licensed, if that is what they want to do.

In terms of the professional standing of the industry and the potential risk to reputation a collapse of an agent may present, I look to the USA where there are over 14,000 travel agents in a completely deregulated environment.

Consumer protection is provided via federal laws that are not very different to ours.

The reputation of travel agents there is outstanding. Consumers book with confidence via travel agents for a whole range of reasons.

A key focus of AFTA and Government during the roll out of ATAS is to showcase those benefits to consumers. This never happened under the previous regime.

Australia is leading the way in a deregulated environment by intro-ducing ATAS as a form of professional industry acknowledgement, some-thing that very few deregulated countries offer.

To base the professional standing of the industry’s future on the back of bailout schemes is not looking to the way travel agents need to be viewed in an ever more globally competitive environment.

ATAS is designed to further enhance the professionalism of the travel sector in Australia, mirroring those schemes in place for most other professions.

For the first time, accredited agents will be required to have professional indemnity insurance to ensure that the advice they provide can be relied on, just as you do for a doctor or a lawyer, which is fundamental for the future success of the travel sector.

This new structure brings the oversight of the travel sector in line with other professions across the country. This can only be a good thing for our industry and consumers alike.

Simple fact – the future just arrived.

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