THE Australian Federation of Travel Agents has confirmed the voluntary withdrawal of Bunnik Tours and Sun Island Tours from the Australian Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS). The companies are among six terminations from the program, with the AFTA website also noting the pullout of V Travel Network, Morcombe Travel, Zodiac Travel and Interline Travel.
All of the withdrawals were effective from 31 March 2023, according to the online update – the deadline for renewal of membership for the current 12 month period.
Bunnik Tours joint CEO Dennis Bunnik said the company had “elected to go with the CATO Accreditation system moving forward as it better suits our business model as a tour operator”. Bunnik, who is also Chairman of the Council of Australian Tour Operators, noted that the CATO platform had been “created specifically for tour operators and wholesalers which operate with significantly different legal responsibilities and operational structures than travel agents”.
Sun Island Tours GM John Polyviou mirrored Bunnik’s comments, noting that his business is a long-standing member of CATO, as well as being IATA accredited. “We are a proud participant of the new CATO Accreditation scheme, which is more fit-for purpose for our wholesale business going forward,” he said.
Polyviou said Sun Island had “originally joined the ATAS accreditation scheme as we operated a retail division, Kyrenia Travel, and felt that ATAS accreditation was necessary for our retail travel business. However, we have begun to wind down our retail arm and we therefore feel that the CATO scheme suits our company profile best moving forward”.
Bunnik confirmed that the withdrawal had also resulted in the cessation of Bunnik Tours’ longstanding membership of AFTA. “Bunnik Tours is a strong supporter of industry associations and the vital role they play,” he told travelBulletin, noting that the company is a full IATA member and also a member of the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC).
“It was our strong desire to continue to support AFTA through allied membership, the same way other suppliers such as car rental companies, cruise lines and airlines do,” Bunnik said, adding “unfortunately this was not accepted and sadly our 28-year membership of AFTA has been forced to end”.
For its part, AFTA insists that it “has and will always be committed to representing all our members, from travel agents and businesses to tour operators, based on the fundamental belief that working together is our greatest strength”. CEO Dean Long said the diverse membership of ATAS was a key factor in securing major wins including the $270 millio in Federal funding for members during the pandemic, as well as the recent expansion of the Federal Government’s Skills Priority List.
“Our membership reflects the diversity of tavel, with strong representation from wholesalers, consolidators and cruise lines as well as travel management companies and travel agents,” Long said.
The AFTA CEO noted that the value of AFTA membership and ATAS accreditation “continues to drive strong renewals, including the number of tour operators which has actually increased”.