By BRUCE Piper
EXPRESS Travel Group CEO Tom Manwaring gave a characteristically honest assessment of the prospects for the Australian travel sector during his opening address at the company’s annual ETGX conference in Bangkok last month.
Manwaring, who has seen his organisation grow to now comprise almost 770 members across Australia — along with Creative Cruising and the newly acquired majority stake in NZ-based First Travel Group — has seen it all, and likened the current angst over IATA’s New Distribution Capability and last month’s Qantas Channel debut, to the dreaded Millennium Bug.
“Coming up to 1 August there was almost panic in the market,” Manwaring told ETGX delegates. “What happened? Nothing. Sure, there were some teething problems, domestic fares were incorrect but that got fixed. We continued to transact. Is there some sort of plan by Qantas to start dealing directly with all the customers in Australia — 11 million of them flying a year? By one airline? Really?”
Manwaring reassured his audience, saying “we are an integrated part of the distribution, and that’s where we will stay — we’ve got a part to play”.
However that’s not to say things don’t have to change. He urged his members to recognise their own professionalism — and forecast the further rise of agent service fees.
“We have to charge for our time. We need to be more professional in our own shops, and make the customer aware that there is a price to pay for dealing with experience, and for receiving excellent service. You’re delivering a multiple itinerary — cruse, car, insurance, touring — that takes talent. And to charge for that talent is what the business is all about,” Manwaring said.
MEANWHILE despite Manwaring’s reassurance about the advent of the Qantas Channel at the start of last month changing little, there was absolutely one fundamental impact.
Agents who opted into the new agreement noticed nothing whatsoever — except that while doing exactly the same job themselves, servicing their clients and selling tickets on behalf of Qantas — they in many cases are no longer receiving the same GDS segment rebates.
Indeed the ETG chief admitted the Qantas Channel was having a financial impact on his business.
Promises of a new, wide array of sales opportunities such as ancillaries, special fares, targeted frequent flyer promotions and agent incentives are yet to materialise — and yet Qantas and the GDS firms appear to be already reaping the benefits of the change.
There’s no wonder a groundswell of fury is circulating across the industry, particularly across some mid-sized TMCs. The coming months are likely to be very interesting — watch this space!