Steve Jones’ Say

IT’S five years since the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) was bumped off, yet its ghost still roams the corridors of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA).

Since the untimely demise of Tempo Holidays and Bentours the TCF’s spectre has again dogged AFTA Chief Executive Jayson Westbury.

Westbury was, of course, the architect of the TCF’s closure as he cajoled the industry, into a deregulated environment where consumers were no longer automatically financially protected from supplier failure.

It was, naturally, a highly contentious restructure. It clearly remains so. In the aftermath of the Tempo Holidays and Bentours failure, some agents called for its return, no doubt mightily peeved at once again facing the financial and reputation backlash created by events out of their control.

Ah, but the TCF would not have helped in the Tempo situation, agents were told by AFTA. Really? That’s not how the old TCF regime sees it. Under the former regulated environment, whatever the circumstances behind a collapse, all consumers would have been compensated, with the TCF prepared to take legal action to recover funds.

Whatever the truth, it’s all rather academic. Chances don’t come much more remote than a regulatory body rising from the ashes of TCF and replacing the current AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS). But that doesn’t mean we should shrug our shoulders and assume nothing can be done. Already there is the chargeback scheme whereby agents can protect themselves in the event of consumers being refunded by credit card providers. But gaps remain. People paying with cash, for example, are left to pick up the pieces. They would have been protected under the TCF. Can the industry find a way to appease these disgruntled cash-paying consumers who have lost all confidence in their travel agent? It’s got to be worth a discussion.

As far as the demise of Tempo Holidays and Bentours is concerned, it was a miserable end to such enduring trade brands. By all accounts, blame should be directed towards their parent company, Cox & Kings.

Particularly galling were the statements disseminated on behalf of the local business. In early August, as financial concerns began to emerge at Cox & Kings, the trade was assured that both Tempo Holidays and Bentours were in rude health. Fear not, we were told, the brands “function independently” of its parent. The following week, after AFTA rightly cancelled Tempo Holidays and Bentours’ ATAS accreditation, the local operation again stressed that it was business as usual.

That was staggeringly disingenuous, bordering on a calculating lie. Whoever was responsible for such deceptive statements needs bringing to account. At least the TCF would have tried.

If you have any thoughts, email