Perspective – July 2011

Skroo, AFTA vice chairman

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Ian McMahonSkroo, AFTA vice chairman

THE election of Flight Centre boss Graham (Skroo) Turner to the position of AFTA vice chairman is significant for a number of reasons. Most importantly it signals that Australia’s largest travel retailer is committed to its membership of the federation at the very highest level.

Those with long memories (like your aged editor) can recall a time when Turner was so disenchanted with AFTA that he considered moving to have the body wound up.

It was one of the crowning achievements of former AFTA chief executive Mike Hatton that he persuaded not just Turner but the equally disillusioned heads of other major chains to again play an active role within their trade association and, in so doing, give it the muscle it needs to be an effective advocate of agents’ interests.

It is a process that has continued, indeed accelerated, under current chief executive Jay Westbury. For example, Travellers Choice chief executive Gary Allomes who became estranged from the federation in the final years of Hatton’s reign, has now returned to the fold and is again active within AFTA.

Meanwhile Magellan Travel general manager Andrew Macfarlane was a conspicuous presence at this month’s annual general meeting of AFTA, making it clear that this relatively new but burgeoning group of high-end agents also intends to be a contributor to the federation’s deliberations.

Turner’s move into one of AFTA’s two vice chairman slots coincides with the creation of another AFTA board seat for Flight Centre, providing some sort of balance with the three seats held by Jetset Travelworld Group members.

This new director position will be filled by Flight Centre’s company secretary, David Smith, who has hitherto acted as Turner’s alternate. In practice this has meant that Smith has attended many more board meetings than Turner who, as the Australian Financial Review noted recently, was absent from all of them held over the past 12 months.

Turner’s election to the vice president position – which could only have occurred after he agreed to be nominated – presumably signals that the Flight Centre chief now intends to be a more “hands on” AFTA director.

Coming after AFTA’s stunning success in lobbying for the deregulation of retail travel agents – doing away with the bureaucracy of licensing and the financial burdens of Travel Compensation Fund membership – these board level developments can only enhance AFTA’s ability to flex muscle in representing agents’ interests.

• In what will be seen as an indicator of agents’ general satisfaction with the way their trade association is going about its business, this month’s annual general meeting of AFTA almost did not get under way for lack of a quorum.

The presence of Magellan’s Andrew Macfarlane and a hasty phone call summoning Air Tickets’ Russell Carstensen saved the day. The meeting itself dealt expeditiously with business as has become the practice in recent years.

For those of us who recall AFTA AGMs stretching for hours (in some cases, days) of wrangling, hair-splitting and points of order, this makes for a welcome change.






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