Chairmanship of world travel agent body stays Down Under

Issues & Trends – August 2010

Chairmanship of world travel agent body stays Down Under

THE chairmanship of the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAAA) has remained in the Antipodes following the association’s Annual General Assembly in Sydney earlier this month.

New Zealand’s Peter Barlow, presi-dent of the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ), was elected to replace Australia’s Mike Hatton at the helm of the world travel agent body.

In his former role as chief executive of AFTA, Hatton was the driving force behind the formation of WTAAA in the wake of widespread disillusion-ment with the Universal Federation of Travel Agent Associations (UFTAAA).

Hatton, who retired from AFTA at the end of 2008, has now stepped down from his WTAAA role and is replaced on its board by the federation’s current chief executive Jayson Westbury.

Hatton said: “I am delighted to hand over the reins to Peter as this association is now well positioned to meet the challenges that this dynamic industry presents.

“This also ends a very personal journey for me as the founder of WTAAA and the many colleagues and friends that I leave to continue this journey.”

Barlow paid generous tribute to his predecessor. He described Hatton as an iconic figure and “one of the few legends” of the international travel industry.

After outlining how WTAAA’s founding chairman “really nurtured this baby (WTAAA) from a seed
planted five years ago”, Barlow announced that the alliance had bestowed its first honorary life membership on the Australian.

Pointing out that WTAAA mem-bers account for 70 per cent of global Bank Settlement Plan turnover, Barlow depicted it as the world’s most significant travel agency body able to tackle issues that affect agents across national borders.

He said the body’s second board meeting for the year, held in Sydney in conjunction with its annual assembly, presented an opportunity to talk about the onward relevance of the travel agency community; the resilience of travel agents in the face of global recession; the emergence of new travel distribution technologies; and the importance of strong supplier relationships.

On the supplier front, he agreed that negotiating with IATA was a primary focus for the alliance. “That said, other suppliers such as cruise and car rental companies are also very important,” Barlow stressed.
Expressing confidence in the future of bricks and mortar travel agents in the age of the internet, Barlow said arranging long-haul international travel was complicated and “the reality is the consumer needs help” from competent, professional travel agents.

While some consumers may per-ceive that it is less expensive to book on the web, AFTA’s Jayson Westbury commented: “It might seem cheaper when you look, but it’s not necessarily cheaper when you book.”

Denmark’s Lars Thykier (DRF) said the disruption caused to aviation by the recent Iceland volcanic eruption had demonstrated to Europeans the value of booking with bricks and mortar retailers.

He claimed stranded consumers who had booked with traditional travel agents received much more assistance than those who had booked with online travel agents, while some airlines “tried to run away from their legal obligations”.