Fierce competition in 2015 NTIAs

Ian McMahonUNTIL now, the headline award at the annual National Travel Industry Awards (NTIAs) has been widely regarded as the “Best Travel Agency Group”.

Of course, there is no official pecking order of awards and for dozens of agents, agency staff and suppliers, the award that matters most to them is the one for which they have been nominated.

But the award that has always attracted the most intense speculation and the fiercest rivalry has been the Best Travel Agency Group. Over the years, chains like Flight Centre, Jetset, Harvey World and Travelscene have competed aggressively to take out top honours.

However at this year’s event, I suspect the industry focus will be on who takes home the “Best Non-Branded Travel Agency Group” trophy.

With once iconic brands now absorbed into the single Helloworld marque, the field for Best Travel Agency Group is limited to the two giants – Helloworld and Flight Centre – with the smaller Travellers Choice throwing out a quixotic challenge and turning the contest into a three horse race.

There will indeed be a major buzz at the awards night if Travellers Choice should pull off a giant-killing victory. But in the lead-up to the awards night, I discern the real buzz of anticipation now surrounds the much more crowded field in the non-branded category.

In the wake of brands like HWT, Jetset, Travelworld and Travelscene American Express disappearing from our shopping centres and high streets, the emergence and growth of groups like Magellan, ATAC and ITG has added to the diversity of options available to Australia’s retail agents.

They are among the five finalists jostling for the award and I understand there were at least two other nominees who did not make the final short list. The energy and enterprise being displayed by this sector – not to mention the results being achieved – are testament to the vitality of Australian travel retailing.

Another emerging sector also demonstrating this vitality and diversity is home-based agents. This year, disappointingly, the sector is lumped into the single location category. The sector deserves a category of its own, in fairness to traditional high street single locations as much as to the burgeoning home-based networks. This is not lost on the awards organisers and I confidently tip that we will see a new category in the 2016 awards.

Overall, with the best of our industry’s agencies, principals and staff competing for 37 awards, this year’s NTIA is shaping up as a not-to-be-missed celebration. Bring it on!