THE Australian Federation of Travel Agents is set to revamp the convoluted voting process enshrined in its constitution, with the issue highlighted during last month’s AFTA Annual General Meeting which for the first time in many years saw a tweak to the organisation’s Board representation.
The existing constitution, developed in the mid-2000s, has served AFTA well over the years, ensuring stability and engagement from the top levels of the industry, but there is increasing recognition that modifications are needed in order to better reflect the changing world of travel – particularly amidst the disruption wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current document provides for a total of 12 directors, elected in rotation for a two-year period. Each year half of the Board stands for re-election, and every year since 2005 the incumbents, representing most of the major industry consortia and agent networks, have been reinstated unopposed, without even having any outside nominations. That’s because the constitution effectively abrogates the voting power from individual agencies to their head offices. Independent outlets remain part of AFTA but at a concessional rate, while their votes go to their parent organisations under a complex formula which, particularly with the decimation of the retail sector over the last 18 months, has become increasingly less relevant. And Flight Centre’s now depleted retail network also gave it a strong voice based on the voting formula.
In 2020, during former AFTA CEO Darren Rudd’s short-lived tenure, there were actually additional nominations for the Board for the first time in many years. As became evident in the outcome of last year’s votes – which saw ATAC’s Michelle Emerton and Simon Te Hennepe from TRAVLR garner just 50-odd votes each compared to the 800-plus for the incumbents – there was little point for those not already on the board to nominate. However that didn’t deter even more nominations this year, which saw a total of 10 people put their hand up – the six existing Board members whose positions were being spilled, along with four more. And in what was perhaps a surprise to everyone, one of those newbies actually got up, with The Travel Corporation’s Katrina Barry, head of Contiki and Trafalgar, elected as a Director, replacing CT Partners’ representative David Greenland from Reed & Mackay, who had been appointed to fill a casual vacancy just a few months prior.
The ability for a supplier like TTC to nominate was an outcome of the group’s participation in the AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS), which in turn meant it, along with other similar suppliers, was required to be an AFTA member – and consequently have a vote. Barry, who is a highly experienced executive and will contribute significantly to the Federation’s governance, is nevertheless not actually a travel agent, and her appointment has raised some eyebrows. Some have also noted that TTC’s Finance Director, James O’Donnell, became a CATO board member recently, meaning the travel giant now has board-level influence in two of the industry’s key organisations.