Unity Crucial to Industry Success

Steve Jones comments on the stories that have newspapers and TV networks rubbing their hands.

SteveJonesBy Steve Jones

They are the stories that have newspapers and TV networks rubbing their hands.

The elderly couple planning one last overseas adventure, the struggling family who saved for years for their dream holiday, the high school sweethearts excitedly looking forward to their first trip to New York.

They are not, of course, particularly eye catching tales in their own right. What elevates them to public interest status is that all of them – the pensioners, the cash-strapped family, the young couple – were all robbed of their holiday because of supposedly duplicitous travel agents.

A Current Affair has had a field day.

As travelBulletin reports in this issue, the recent spate of failures has, predictably, reignited debate over travel industry regulation and the financial protection of consumers.

But as AFTA chief executive Jayson Westbury rightly says, if an individual is intent on wreaking havoc, they will do so, irrespective of the regulatory structure.

No jurisdiction can stop fraudulent behaviour for the fundamental reason that fraud is concerned with conning people, deliberately circumventing laws and regulatory structures. Fraudsters, by their very nature, just don’t play by the rules.

The difference now, of course, is there is no central scheme to refund consumers who have been stung. Together with the print media, A Current Affair, and other programs like it, are perfectly entitled to throw the spotlight on allegedly unscrupulous behaviour, even if it hurts the reputation of the overwhelming majority of the retail sector who are honorable, trustworthy and, rather importantly, not about to shut up shop.

Such emotional stories of broken holiday dreams are cannon fodder for journalists.

An elderly couple who lost their fridge because a supplier did a runner just doesn’t cut it. Pensioners conned out of their dream holiday? That’s more like it.

Has damage been inflicted on the reputation of agents? I don’t believe so – not yet. But alarm bells are ringing, and ringing loudly, because that’s far from the end of it.

I disagree with AFTA ceo Jayson Westbury’s assertion that such programs will actually benefit the industry as they will expose, and weed out, travel’s mercenaries.

Yes, people have short memories and three segments on A Current Affair will not immediately erode our faith in travel agents.

But this isn’t about the next six, 12 or 24 months. It’s the longer term, the danger of a slow, gradual erosion of trust that is the big danger. Death by a thousand cuts to coin a phrase.

What is clear is the need for the industry to get on the front foot and work collaboratively to combat the negativity.
We are 12 months into the New World of deregulation, so maybe now is a good time to draw a line in the sand, put differences aside and work together to ensure the rogues out there do not capture all the headlines.

Meanwhile, the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) is about to enter a new era. And what a great opportunity it has to reinvent itself.

At its AGM last month, Bunnik Tours founder and managing director Dennis Bunnik was named chairman, replacing Rod Eather, with other fresh blood on the committee including Greg Carter from Chimu Adventures as vice chair, replacing Trevor Fernandes.

With no disrespect to Eather, or any other CATO stalwarts, Bunnik represents a younger, more modern, progressively-minded breed of wholesaler who could just be the man to transform the council from its current club mindset into a more strategically-focused body.

As we all know, the industry has been hugely disrupted in recent years, and with that must come a new way of thinking.

New energy, ideas, and a less wistful view of the good old days could be the combination to ensure CATO retains its relevancy and usefulness to its loyal members.

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