AFTA tweaks ATAS in line with review, but stands firm on issues

AFTA tweaks ATAS in line with review, but stands firm on issues
By admin


The Australian Federation of Travel Agents will adopt nine of the 11 recommendations made by the first year review of its Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS) as it claimed the findings show it has been “functioning well”.

Take a look below to see which recommendations have and haven’t been adopted.

However, commentary and suggestions submitted around consumer compensation, credit card chargebacks, improvements to customer dispute resolution procedures and raising awareness with customers of the options available to them in the event of a problem were deemed “outside the scope” of the review.

“Whilst a number of recommendations called for suggested compensation arrangements to be considered, ATAS was designed to be an accreditation scheme not a consumer compensation scheme,” AFTA insisted.

“It is the responsibility of the individual consumer to take out appropriate protection for themselves for compensation to cover business failure or fraud,” it said.

Commercial solutions are the way forward for the industry in this area, according to AFTA. It highlighted a number of insurance products currently in market that have been designed specifically for this purpose, with several agency networks putting their own solutions in place.

These also lie “out of scope” of the ATAS review for the same reason, it stressed.

Credit card chargebacks were also put into this category due to AFTA’s belief these are not only travel-related and are, therefore, the responsibility of the banks and consumer affairs agencies nationwide.

Furthermore, improvements to customer dispute resolution procedures and raising awareness with customers of the options available to them in the event of an issue were deemed unnecessary.

“The track record of ATAS would indicate that consumers to date have been satisfied with the general standards that have been adopted and implemented,” AFTA said.

“In fact, within its first 18 months of operation, ATAS has been responsible for $60K being returned to consumers as a result of complaints made about ATAS participants. This demonstrates clearly that the systems that are in place are available to consumers and work to get the best outcome to settle disputes.”

However, ATAS’ most vocal critic TravelManagers chairman Barry Mayo challenged the exclusion of some of these issues from the review process.

“The review being confined to the ATAS Charter and Code was, as commented in TravelManagers’ submission, too narrow in scope,” he said.

“From the perspectives of both AFTA and consumer advocates the number of submissions is disappointing. However, the limited scope of the review may have been a factor in this.”

While he again lamented the scheme’s lack of consumer protection, he called on ATAS to compile a list of relevant insurance products and provide some “minimum guidelines” to ATAS members to ensure consumers are left in “no doubt” about cover.

“In conclusion, if a real objective of ATAS is to demonstrate to consumers the professional standards of accredited agents, as set out in section 2.3 of the review, the financial criteria should be enhanced to require annual audited accounts, maintenance of a client trust account and, where commercial safeguards exists, the provision of public communication clearly detailing how client funds are secured, protected and accessible to the client in the event an agent becomes insolvent,” Mayo said.

“Without these additional provisions, the current ATAS eligibility criteria is insufficient to ensure the objectives of ATAS are achieved.”

However, AFTA was buoyed by the review’s findings.

“What is clear from the report is that ATAS is functioning well for both consumers and the travel industry and that the code and charter have been developed with sound guiding principles,” it concluded.

Review recommendations to be adopted:

  1. That the Authorised Person (as provided for in the ATAS Deed Poll) be resident in Australia and have full authority to make decisions on behalf of the business for all purposesrelevant to ATAS, including the resolution of customer disputes.
  2. That the requirement in section 2.5(d) of the Charter that a “close associate has authority or may be in a position to have authority” over the applicant be deleted and that the definition of “close associate” (in section 8 of the Charter) be broadened on the basis of legal advice, either as set out in the Legal Review or otherwise.
  3. That Participants be required to specifically certify on applying for renewal of accreditation that this requirement has been satisfied and that consideration be given to establishing a system of random spot checks, subject of course to resourcing, requesting evidence of compliance with this requirement.
  4. 4 That the requirement in section 2.5(f) of the Charter that 20% of a Participant’s consumer-facing staff hold a Certificate III – Travel or equivalent be amended so that the percentage of 20% is increased over time and that the AFTA Board consider the implementation of an aspirational timetable in this regard.
  5. That Participants be required under section 2.5(g) of the Charter to notify the client in writing (a) when a dispute with a client arises, as to the Participant’s internal process, and (b) when the client is notified in regard to the final outcome of the Participant’s internal process, as to the available external process
  6. That in paragraph (v) of section 2.5(i) of the Charter, the words “as to its financial viability” be deleted and that a similar power for ATAS to obtain “such other information as may be requested” be inserted in each of sections 2.2 and 2.5(d).
  7. That both the Charter and the Code be amended in the mannersuggested in Schedule 1, subject to such further legal advice as may be necessary.
  8. That after consultation with the submission makers: the Charter and Code be made more user-friendly (including by reformatting), the title of each attachment be mentioned in TOC, and the “commercial in confidence” endorsement be removed, and a clearly designed dispute scheme flowchart be made available.
  9. That the Charter be amended to give ATAS (at its discretion) the power to impose mandatory conditions on accreditation.

 

Review recommendations that won’t be adopted:

  1. That the AFTA Board consider the implementation of an aspirational timetable, with the objective that, at an appropriate time in the future, all Participants be required to maintain client accounts and that: (a) such accounts be described as “client trust accounts”; and (b) consideration be given to: (i) requiring, at that future time, Participants to provide annual compliance reports; and (ii) subject to resourcing, carrying out random trust account investigations.

         Why?

“On review of the comments made and the general operation of the scheme and industry the Board rejects this recommendation as it does not believe it provides any material benefit to the ongoing operation of the scheme while it is in a voluntary state. AFTA is committed to working with the broader insurance industry to establish more and more commercial solutions and believes that commercial solutions better serve the broader nature and composition of travel businesses in Australia today.”

  1. That, in addition to inclusion of the above statistics in AFTA’s Annual Report and Yearbook, ATAS publish (and then use every effort to publicise) an ATAS annual report containing appropriate statistics as to the operation of the scheme.

          Why?

“ATAS is a division of AFTA and under the corporate governance requirements of AFTA it is required to produce an annual report that is placed into the public domain. The annual report contains a substantial section about the operations, complaints and other aspects of ATAS and the Board believes this is a most appropriate method to provide both members and the general public with details about operations of the ATAS scheme.”

Image credit: iStock

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

    Latest comments
    1. ….atas is a voluntary scheme…. it is not a replacement of the abolished tcf…. the protection had been abolished…. you hear… so leave atas alone… it doesn’t concern itself with agents customers… protection of customers is a burden to agents that’s why tcf was abolished… so stop deluding yourself travelling public… when using an agent, you’re still on your own… well, technically…

    2. ….atas is a voluntary scheme…. it is not a replacement of the abolished tch…. the protection had been abolished…. you hear… so leave atas alone… it doesn’t concern itself with agents customers… protection of customers is a burden to agents that’s why tcf was abolished… so stop deluding yourself travelling public… when using an agent, you’re still on your own… well, technically…

accreditation afta agents atas barry mayo review TarvelManagers

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