Reform at last – but questions remain

Reform at last – but questions remain
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Consumer Affairs ministers have agreed to overhaul travel agent regulation in Australia with the Travel Compensation Fund set for the axe – but what will replace the old structure is as unclear as ever.

States and territories will spend the next few months mapping out a transition blueprint that will be presented to the industry for consultation ahead of a final decision to be made in December.

While the days of the TCF are clearly numbered, ministers at a meeting in Adelaide on Friday declined to provide details of what is likely to replace the consumer protection scheme.

They are expected however to explore suggestions contained in 950 pages of reports and submissions from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents and numerous other papers. Possibilities include self regulation, accreditation schemes and new insurance policies.

AFTA said it would undertake an “education process” to urge consumers to use an AFTA travel agent.

A communiqu√© issued after Friday’s meeting said: “Ministers agreed that the TCF could not continue to be the primary vehicle for consumer protection in the travel market.”

Current arrangements are “not satisfactory”, it added, with only a third of affected consumers benefitting from the scheme. “There has been a general acceptance that the current system is a significant regulatory burden with declining benefit”.

While there remains frustration over a lack of clarity over a future system, it did not stop AFTA chief executive Jayson Westbury heralding the agreement to overhaul regulation as a “historic day”.

“The draft transition plan that has been endorsed will require some fine tuning but the good news is that travel agents in Australia now have a clearer future which is what we have all been waiting for,” he said. “Consumers will be protected via the continued and important credit card chargeback process. Further measures will be developed as part of the draft transition plan and AFTA will ensure that a good outcome for everyone is finalised as these transitional plans are finalised.”

Westbury said the removal of $20 million of red tape will allow Australian companies to compete on a level playing field with the overseas web-based firms who are not subjected to the same regulation process.

He added: “Consumers will benefit from an education process that AFTA will undertake to better inform them of the need to use an AFTA travel agent but also the importance of how the Australian Consumer Law delivers protection for them.”

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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