Perspective – May 2011

Whose money?

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Ian McMahonWhose money?

A STORY published elsewhere in this issue of travelBulletin reports on the good news for consumers contained in the latest annual report of the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) released earlier this month. The report presents a picture of a minuscule number of agency collapses and a rapidly declining number of consumer claims against the fund, with the aggregate monetary value of those claims tumbling even further.

It is a picture that delights AFTA chief executive Jayson Westbury, and not just because it makes clear that Australia’s consolidating retail travel industry is currently in robust financial health.

Even more pleasing to Westbury is the reinforcement the figures give to AFTA’s case for reform of the present outdated system of travel industry regulation.

In only a week or so, bureaucrats from Australia’s state and federal consumer affairs departments will meet to consider the discussion paper summarising the options for reform.

Not just Westbury but virtually the entire retail travel industry will be fervently hoping
1) that the bureaucrats do finally make a decision and 2) that the decision is in favour of the discussion paper’s options 1A and 2A.

These are AFTA’s preferred options and their implementation would mean that travel agents are no longer treated differently from the rest of Australia’s commercial world.

It would see the entire tourism and travel industry – not just the small, and reducing, section comprising bricks and mortar travel agents – covered by a self-regulatory scheme under the umbrella of Australian consumer law.

Hopefully Westbury is correct in his view that the latest TCF figures strengthen the AFTA case, and we will see the consumer affairs officials come down in favour of its proposals.

If this does happen, and we see the abolition of the TCF, another interesting question arises. Who gets the money contributed by travel agents over the years to the TCF? We’re not talking peanuts here.

By the end of 2010 TCF reserves had reached $28.3 million – a 12 per cent increase on 2009.

That’s quite a sum of money. (My goodness gracious, it could even be more than a bank chief executive makes in a year.) As the money was contributed by the travel agents of Australia, shouldn’t it be returned to them in some form?

Who wants to bet that it will remain in governments’ hands? Mind you there are plenty of travel agents who would consider it money well spent in exchange for a regulatory regime that reflects 21st Century realities.

Declaration of interest

ELSEWHERE in this issue we publish an article by distinguished former AFTA chief executive and WTAA chairman, Mike Hatton, comparing the pros and cons of IATA accreditation versus consolidation.

Hatton is retained as a consultant by the Jetset Travelworld Group which includes consolidator, Air Tickets.
While no one in the Australian travel industry would ever doubt the integrity of the views expressed by Hatton, we think it is important to point this out.







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