AFTA, CATO see positives in further delays to licensing reform process

Issues & Trends – December 2010/January 2011

AFTA, CATO see positives in further delays to licensing reform process

BOTH AFTA and the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) are putting a positive spin on the latest delay in the release of a report seen as the next step in the tortuous process of reforming travel agent licensing legislation.

After a six month hiatus – during which there have been ministerial changes at federal level and a change of government in Victoria – the Ministerial Council of Consumer Affairs (MCCA) has decided to further post-pone the release of the Price-waterhouseCoopers (PwC) review of consumer protection in the travel industry.

The state and federal ministers for Consumer Affairs have decided to keep the document under wraps until they get feedback from their public servants who meet under the banner of SCOCA (Standing Committee on Consumer Affairs).

This means the report remains pigeon-holed until at least early 2011 when the MCCA next meets.

However AFTA chief executive Jay Westbury and CATO general manager Peter Baily are taking comfort from the following clause in the MCCA communiqué announcing the delay: “MCCA recognises that the travel industry has undergone major changes in recent years including the uptake of technology, most importantly the internet.”

Westbury sees this as recognition of the underlying theme of AFTA’s submission to the PwC review.

In a statement issued in the wake of the MCCA communiqué, Westbury said: “It is a recognition of the policy position made by AFTA in its submission that the changing face of the travel distribution system needs to be considered when developing any new regulation or legislation as there is not a level playing field within the industry between Australian-owned traditional and online travel agents, overseas internet travel agents and other companies selling any component of travel who remain outside of the current system totally.

“Given how long it has taken to get this far, a few more months is a short time to wait in order to be able to get this right.

“We have one real opportunity to repair the system to ensure that everyone that sells travel products to Australians are included in whatever system is designed.

“If that means more time for consideration, then the industry will have to accept that and work with the respective governments, officials and ministers on a new system.

“We don’t want to get this wrong, so let’s not apply time pressure at this time.

“The Ministers have clearly identified that there is not a level playing field in Australia and this acknowledgment is music to our ears.”

Baily was also encouraged that the MCCA’s statement “did recognise that the travel industry has undergone major changes in recent years including technology and in particular the internet”.

Writing in his “CATO View” column, Baily said: “From CATO’s viewpoint it is a comfort that at least the government now acknow-ledges that our industry has changed.

“Hopefully during the coming year we can work towards getting regulations in place that are more equitable than those currently being used.”