ATAC looks to a thriving future

THE Australian Travel Agents Co-Operative (ATAC) is aiming to highlight its compelling offering to independent travel agents, with the totally transparent, member-owned organisation described as the perfect choice for agency owners who “don’t want to be told ‘this is how you must run your business'”.

Speaking to travelBulletin at the group’s first post-pandemic conference in Melbourne earlier this week, newly appointed ATAC Chairman Jack Taylor from Performance Travel in the ACT noted the membership-owned structure of the organisation. “For people who want to not just be a part of a buying group, but actually own your buying group, this is where you go. We cannot go to the membership and drastically change ATAC – we don’t have the power to do so as a board. We are elected by the people sitting in the room, and they’re not going to wake up one day and find we’ve been merged into something else…we simply don’t have the power to do that”.

“So the people that want to come to us truly value that element of independence, they truly value, ‘this is my business, I’ll run it how I want. I run it similar or differently to people who I join in business, and then join that prosperity of togetherness and that partnership element with people who make sense’,” Taylor added.

ATAC members are a disparate group, ranging from shopfronts and businesses with multiple offices to mobile outlets (literally – one of the member agencies is operated by Lyn and Colin Spain from the RV where they live and travel the country) and everything in between. As well as generalists offering leisure and/or corporate travel (or both), some are specialists in niche travel products, but the general hallmark is an ability to innovate, stand alone and maximise the opportunities ahead. And despite their diversity, young and old ATAC members are across the board united as “partners in prosperity” as the group’s tag line suggests.

Taylor said ATAC had only lost four of its members due to the pandemic, while a burst of growth has seen at least 15 new agencies join the group in the last 12 months. But having survived the pandemic by literally counting every penny, now is the time to grow, he said – and that may require some tweaks to the longstanding ATAC business model. “There has to be evolution, we know, and we’re excited to navigate these challenges with our members,” he said. Options to boost revenue and provide more resources for a sustainable future are on the table, including adding performance-based overrides and even the possibility of introducing a membership fee, which according to ATAC General Manager Michelle Emerton had been a revelation to the organisation – particularly in light of the ongoing push for agencies to charge for their expertise.

“How can we come here and tout to our members that they should be charging fees, when we don’t ourselves?” she said. Taylor added: “I still remember the board meeting when that happened, Michelle said that and everyone on the board just went, ‘Oh’, it was just like that light switch moment”.

Emerton said membership of ATAC simply makes sense for independent agencies.”I can walk into an agency and tell them, hand on heart, that if their annual TTV is $2 million we will be putting at least $20,000 into their pocket every year – and that’s with no membership fees at all, and they even get a 12% annual dividend on their shareholding, which has been paid right through the pandemic,” she said. “There’s no smoke and mirrors – that is actually what you will be paid. Pre-COVID we were making up to seven or eight payments a year to members – like quarterly air overrides and an annual bonus. We only operate head office on overrides, we keep none of the agents’ source commission, we never touch that, and on top of that we share the majority of the overrides direct back to the agent,” Emerton added.

She highlighted some high profile members of the organisation such as Ramsgate Travel’s Justine Sealey, Kirsty Eccleston from Meridian Travel and Meg Hill from Cruise Express. “They’re really good, solid businesses, and they really like ATAC – but they’re not stupid, they can actually see the financial worth, they know how much it’s worth to them,” the ATAC GM noted.

Going forward, the aim is to share the industry’s “best kept secret” with a wider audience. “We’re going to flip the switch,” Taylor said. “Let’s get ATEC out there,” he added.

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