Consumer protection & staffing issues linger: TC

TC Conference 2014_AFTA and TCConcerns surrounding consumer protection were brought to the foreground at the Travellers Choice Shareholders Conference last month, with insurance options singled out as an ongoing challenge for independent agencies.

After announcing a record financial performance for the year which topped $1.62m, Hunter made a special mention of the transition to deregulation and spoke at length of the implementation of ATAS. Hunter was quick to commend the efforts of AFTA in rolling out a “comprehensive” scheme to support agencies, but he also acknowledged that consumer protection remains an unknown in the absence of the TCF.

While deregulation has been in the pipeline for the best part of half a decade, Hunter said members had raised concerns about the ramifications for clients in the event of insolvency, with issues surrounding the reputation of the travel industry the main concern.

“The simple reality is that at some point in the future there will be a collapse. It could be an agent, or a supplier, and as an industry we need to ensure that our collective reputations remain intact through the appropriate treatment of client funds,” he told a record crowd of 250 members.

While AFTA has made some headway with the introduction of insurance products to protect agents and consumers in the event of supplier or agent insolvency, Hunter said current measures still fall short and are “expensive and confusing” in terms of coverage.

“Following the closure of the TCF, there is no specific consumer protection mechanism in place … and while the range of optional insurance products has been welcomed, the reality has been that the process and premiums associated with these products have been restrictive,” he said.

Speaking with travelBulletin at the conference on the Gold Coast, Hunter said he was in negotiations with insurers to find more suitable options, but admitted there was “some way to go” until an appropriate solution was likely to be finalised at a group level.

“Part of the problem is that there is currently only one major provider in this space and they are effectively monopolising the market. Products will evolve and we will find a solution as more competition enters the market but we don’t know what it will look like and discussions are still ongoing at this stage,” he said.

Issues surrounding staff retention and recruitment also received a mention, with Hunter describing them as one of the “biggest challenges and sources of frustration” for members. As the average age of Australian consultants creeps higher, Hunter highlighted the need to entice younger Australians into the industry and to “revitalise the perception of travel as a career”.

AFTA ceo Jayson Westbury also took to the stand, claiming that the media had played a role in deterring younger Australians from taking up travel as a career option.

“The media have created this ridiculous belief that you’ve [agents] all died. Clearly that’s not true, but it does underpin the problem around careers and trying to motivate people to consider travel as a career,” Westbury said.