Perspective – July 2013

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Ian McMahon

A very good deal

AFTA chief executive Jay Westbury has clinched a good deal for Australia’s travel agents by persuading State Governments to hand over $2.8 million of surplus TCF money to fund the implementation of the voluntary accreditation scheme which is to replace the old agent licensing system.

A very good deal indeed. This is worth reiterating for two reasons.

One is the frankly facile contention that all of the TCF reserves should be redistributed to agents who contributed the money. It’s hardly an original thought. As I wrote more than two years ago: “As the money was contributed by the travel agents of Australia shouldn’t it be returned to them in some form?” (travelBulletin, May 2011).

But I also added” “Who wants to bet that it will remain in governments’ hands?”

That was a rider that reflected the intrinsic difficulty of wresting any money away from governments once they have got their hands on it and the increased degree of difficulty when there is a trust deed that explicitly states the funds belong to the state governments.

But it is also relevant that travel agents are not the only contributors to TCF coffers. Governments tipped in substantial amounts of cash in the wake of the Ansett collapse when claims on the fund would otherwise have rendered it insolvent.

Secondly, there is a widespread perception that AFTA wanted $9 million and has been short changed by receiving only $2.8 million. Not true.

AFTA has indeed submitted to Australia’s Consumer Affairs Ministers that they should allocate a total of $9 million.

But what the federation proposed was that about one third of the amount should be put towards implementation of the accreditation scheme and that the other two thirds should be spent on consumer advertising once the scheme is put in place.

AFTA has achieved the first part of its proposal with the $2.8 million which will enable it to consult widely with agents and set up a robust accreditation scheme – including covering the first year’s membership fees of agents who sign up. There is no reason to suppose that the Consumer Affairs Ministers will not also allocate the roughly $6 million requested to promote the scheme to consumers.

Indeed observers might think that the Ministers have acted prudently by waiting until they can see how competently AFTA goes about establishing an accreditation scheme before they make a decision on the remaining money.

And, of course, they may well decide to allocate the money for consumer education to another body – say a consumer group – although if AFTA proves itself with a smooth introduction of accreditation, surely it is the logical body to promote it to the public. However this pans out, AFTA now has $2.8 million to set up a robust accreditation scheme. That’s a good deal for the travel agents of Australia.

A job for John Laws?

AUSTRALIAN radio legend, the velvet-voiced John Laws, is well known for his signature call sign: “Hello world”. Can we now expect JTG to join Valvoline (and other companies) in his stable of clients?