The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has underlined its commitment to elevating standards within the Australian travel industry with its ATAS scheme, as this week saw its first accreditation cancellation.
On Monday, AFTA confirmed that Yupp Travel’s accreditation had been cancelled as a result of “incomplete” information although it could provide no further details. It is the first time AFTA has cancelled an accreditation since the scheme was launched in July 2014, general manager accreditation Gary O’Riordan confirmed.
However, he added that 40 applicants had been denied accreditation because they had not fulfilled the scheme’s “rigorous” criteria.
“It could be that their forecasts don’t stack up or that they have a weak business plan,” he told Travel Weekly. While some reassess, then come back and try again, for others it’s the end of the process.
“In a way that’s probably a good thing that we’re deterring some of these people because if they haven’t got the skills, the knowledge, the training or the business background and expertise to back it up, then we don’t want them in the industry.”
While the 18 months since deregulation has seen the collapse of two ATAS-accredited agencies, neither reflects any weakness of the scheme, according to O’Riordan.
The first, the collapse of Travel Rockhampton which was a Helloworld associate agency, resulted in “no consumer detriment” as a result of Helloworld’s customer protection safeguards which came into effect and “worked well”, he said.
And the second, that of CTS Travel Services in Altona Meadows in Victoria, is yet to be resolved but shows signs of being a “fraudulent case”.
“At the end of the day, if someone’s going to commit fraud, then they’ll do it,” O’Riordan said.
“Now once we hear consumer complaints, we start investigating ourselves, bring it to attention of police in the jurisdiction of wherever its occurred and ask consumers to report it.”
It’s a work in progress, with AFTA in talks with police in various jurisdictions about getting more involved in these types of investigations at an earlier stage, and implementing a more consistent approach to the various cases.
But O’Riordan insisted it is a significant improvement on the old order of things.
“Under the old scheme, consumers would have been paid out by the TCF unless they paid by credit card,” he said.
“The issue there is that fraudulent activity is swept under the carpet and then these guys go on and open another travel agency. The issue was not dealt with and the ‘good’ travel agents were paying for the fraudulent activity of ‘bad’ travel agents and they were never exposed.”
Now, with several high profile cases against rogue agents recently making headlines and with Xana Kamitsis of Darwin’s Latitude Travel behind bars, a clear message is being sent to the agent community.
“It sends a pretty strong message that if you do wrong thing by consumers then there are consequences whereas previously it was swept under the carpet,” O’Riordan said.
Meanwhile, the scheme continues to swell with 3111 members at the last count and a 97% renewal rate. In addition, AFTA membership grew by 25% in the 18 months after deregulation.