The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has hit back at a discussion paper shared with the media by the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) that calls for sweeping changes to its accreditation scheme.
On Wednesday, CATO released a discussion paper that, among other considerations, proposed the AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS) become an independent body administered by AFTA, CATO and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), each representing their respective markets.
Each federation, council and association would have equal representation on the ATAS board in addition to independent experts. In this sense, ATAS would sit above AFTA, CATO, and CLIA.
Such a move would “increase overall professionalism” and “provide comprehensive consumer protection” for payments for travel made unavailable by the COVID-19 pandemic, CATO said.
The council said the discussion document, known as the ‘ATAS & Consumer Protection Reform Proposal’, had been “made with the view of creating a path forward for the Australian outbound travel industry post-COVID”.
It didn’t take long to get a reaction from the creator of ATAS, with AFTA responding to the critique within hours.
“It’s with interest that we read the CATO discussion paper,” chair Tom Manwarring said in a statement.
“While we recognise this was intended as a discussion paper, we note … AFTA has been looking at the appropriate evolution of ATAS and ACS for close to a year – it’s a highly complex matter.
“AFTA has been lobbying government on the evolution of ATAS and ACS including formally submitting on the need for specific consumer support in March for government consideration.
“AFTA continues to lobby on these highly sensitive matters including in our pre-Budget submission.
“The chances of success are not elevated as a result of publicly airing these issues in this way.
“We have had preliminary discussions with CATO and prefer to continue these discussions in a collaborative way rather than via the media.”
The document also proposed the establishment of a comprehensive consumer-funded insolvency protection scheme, which would be made compulsory for all international leisure bookings but only available through ATAS accredited entities.
Under such a move, consumers would be issued with a consumer protection insurance certificate at the time of booking, which would cover for insolvency of the ATAS-accredited entity and any International Air Transport Association (IATA) airline used.
Furthermore, CATO’s proposed changes would allow travel agents to offer consumers a “significant advantage” for booking through them rather than direct with airlines or overseas suppliers, CATO claimed, as insurance coverage would not be made available for airline direct bookings nor through overseas-based (non-ATAS) suppliers booked by clients direct.
“A few months ago, CATO called for suggestions for industry reform, the aim being to use the COVID crisis to break down some of the industry’s silos and find a way to come out stronger,” managing director Brett Jardine said.
The response, Jardine said, had been significant, with CATO receiving submissions and ideas from all over the industry, but two issues in particular were raised time and again.
“These related to a consumer protection scheme, and reforming ATAS,” Jardine said. “Our discussion paper is intended to spark debate and discussion on these topics.”
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