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‘Are you serious !?’ Najar speaks out on ATAS basics

April 29, 2014 Corporate, Headline News 4 Comments Email Email

egtmedia59The looming Australian Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS), administered by the Australian Federation of travel Agents (AFTA) is stirring up a lot of controversy.

The Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) is due to disappear at the end of June and with it, the need for agents to be licensed.

Now, well-known South Australian travel agent and industry commentator Max Najar has added a few pertinent comments about ATAS. He says insurance to ensure consumer protection should be a mandatory part of the scheme.

Najar, chairman and chief executive of Axis Travel Centre (established 1978)  suggests jocularly that ATAS may otherwise stand for Accredited Travel Agents Supposedly. CHR_TTR_Banner UK_March14(300x250px)

“I say this because I have deliberately not become involved again in commenting on the whole scheme as I have been chatting to over 50 of our regular Agency clients and also had two radio question-and-answer  sessions about the concept.”

Nevertheless, Najar is speaking out.

When a doctor or lawyer or chartered accountant is listed , advertised or approached, consumers don’t have to ask them whether they are properly insured, trained and updated in their knowledge, he points out.

“It is a given that they cannot belong to their professional associations or maintain legal trading without such basic elements of accreditations and consumer protections in place.

“Yet with a travel agent/agency, we expect to adopt a voluntary scheme and also place the onus on a consumer to ask the right questions, view an agency’s insurance protection certificates and investigate if they are qualified individuals – let alone working under the umbrella of a solid company – as they entrust the agency with their valuable monies and travel arrangements and passports and life!

“Are you serious !!??” Najar exclaims.

“Either you are a professional and secured and accredited – or you are not. Either you are pregnant – or you are not.

“You cannot be pseudo-accredited. You cannot have an opt-in or opt-out scheme that will confuse consumers.

“Most agents will do the right thing and join ATAS and take out all insurances either individually or under a network banner – but there will definitely be those agents who may or may not join ATAS and trade under that guise , under the smoke and mirrors of being ATAS-accredited and also having insurances in place,” Najar says.

No amount of marketing money will solve this dilemma, he adds.

“No amount of AFTA or industry or COTA input or hot air will convince the public (who are also our clients) otherwise.

“I think ATAS has got it fundamentally wrong in its the belief that agents will do it right with the marketing of ATAS to the public that may drive passengers to them and allow a point of difference to be noted by all.

“This will not happen as planned,” he warns. “There are gaps.”

Najar, who describes himself as a “personalised travel and lifestyle specialist” as well as a travel agent, has a solid agency and industry background that gives him sound insights into the issue.

“I have been around long enough to know that we can expect huge discrepancies with humans out there who will deliberately ‘work the system’,” he says.

Najar points out that he served on the original three advisory board panels with South Australia Consumer Affairs, is a past AFTA state chairman and served on executive councils for  the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Australian Travel Agents’ Qualifications program (ATAQ)  as well as heading the ATTRP  for all accreditation schemes in Australia

“I absolutely respect that most agents and suppliers and wholesalers in their hearts want to do and will do the right thing. That is all fine as I am part of that psyche.

“The media and public though, see it differently.

“All you need is one or two agents or suppliers to do the wrong thing (accidentally or deliberately) and the media – who I work with weekly – will crucify all of the good agents who are not only ATAS accredited but also have the correct insurances and staff training in place.

“The media will have an absolute field day ruining what AFTA and ATAS has set up, and no amount of money in reverse marketing will be able to salvage damages done.

“They will paint all agents with the same brush and state on TV and radio and websites and print media things like ‘Even with the new ATAS Scheme, can you really trust the travel Agency you are dealing with?’ or  ‘Does the public have to investigate the credentials of a travel agency or just bypass them and book on the internet or a supplier direct?’

“Hence ATAS will fail its its primary mission.”

Najar continues: “In these days of (stupid) political correctness, the accepted norm to allow  freedom to all to voice opinions and sometimes derail common sense and moral logic, I think ATAS needs to tighten up the links between having insurances and training and financial checks in place – and not allow the huge gaps that will see the scheme eroded in its quality image, its solidarity and its ability to make us the most powerful travel source in which consumers should entrust their money and faith into.

“We are in the year 2014 , against excellent viral, public, internet and blog marketing channels that can easily corrupt and negate and totally destroy any marketing investment of good-faith ideas you may have in ATAS.

“No amount of marketing dollars that helloworld, FCM, Independent, Magellan invests will be able to annul or reverse negative publicity that may occur from agents who will (not may) hide under the cloud of ATAS and the good participants who will do the right thing.”

Najar says both his clients and the general public are adamant they want to be able to do business with “qualified, solid, trustworthy agents”  and the companies they trade under without having to ask questions about their viability or the insurances cover the hold. This is especially true if the bookings are made remotely, such as via the internet to a travel agency.

“The media question-and-answer session I conducted had the  same feelings, with some callers stating that they ‘expected’ and also ‘assumed’ that any new scheme would have levels of security, quality staff and insurances in place as a base minimum, and they should not have to assume or question such levels of credentials, just like they do not question the credentials of a qualified lawyer, or accountant or doctor.

“It should be a given – and not confusing to any consumer. It should be mandatory and not an option to have insurance protection levels in place.”

Najar sums up his stance:

  • I would never entrust my life to a quack- I want a doctor. 
  • I would never give my financials to a bookkeeper – I want a qualified Accountant. 
  • I would not get a web-trained human to give me legal advice – I want a lawyer. 
  • I want my travel to be advised, booked, backed up and quantified by a professional – so I go to an accredited, insured (for them and me) and professionally qualified human – so I go to an ATAS accredited Travel Agent. 
  • I want certainty – and not  a new Accredited Travel Agents Supposedly  scheme. 

Written by : Peter Needham

Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. gnits says:

    …graham turner’s views against compulsory accreditation is self-serving…he knew flight centre cannot be destroyed by a handful of erring agents when they go insolvent…. truth is flight centre can handily use such incidents to raise their profile as a trusted brand conglomerate… his position on this matter is purely irresponsible and immoral…. blood is in your hands graham…

  2. km says:

    None of this would have happened if all states and territories in Australia, as well as all internet travel companies, had to be a part of TCF to operate in Australia, and we had a truly regulated travel industry which provided a LEVEL playing field of pricing and trained professionals, not the crazy discounting and ” I can beat your price” mentality that exists in the industry today.

  3. Peter Watson says:

    Max is 100% correct this is a disaster waiting to happen; it’s simply not good enough for us to be told well if this goes wrong we will make some changes; or we hope all travel agents will be part of the programme. The fact is ted are so many loopholes you could drive a division of Panzer Tanks through them. I have know Max for a long time we have disagreed inn may things and agreed on some – BUT – on this we are totally and absolutely in agreement and alignment. Its time to wake the industry up before it is too late.

  4. I totally agree but has anyone tried to apply for any of these insurances? OMG what a nightmare and it may well be the roadblock that makes the whole scheme unworkable unless it is mandatory.
    ATAS and APII (now known as TAIFI) are not even available for application (ATAS/TAIFI) or quote (TAIFI). There is a one page application for both SAFI and ESFI which took me three days to complete to ensure I included every conceivable supplier, airline, estimated sales figures and advance payment schedule. You will be happy to know that any missed suppliers can be added later, but that creates added pressure on small business to set up systems to ensure this happens each and every time. Scenario agent to customer, “I would love to book your $25,000 holiday today with a supplier I didn’t use last year or register for this year, because my crystal ball was broken. Until I do this neither you nor I will be covered for default. It just means waiting a few weeks until I get this sorted. Can you wait that long?” Or even worse, ““I would love to book your $25,000 holiday with a supplier I didn’t use last year or register for this year, because my crystal ball was broken and neither you nor I are covered for default. Is that OK with you?” I am sure Fair Trading is going to expect Travel Agents to take full responsibility under Consumer Law, if the end supplier defaults, regardless of whether we have insurance or not. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this.
    I send off my initial application for ESFI, SAFI over two weeks ago and have not yet received a quote. We already purchase, Professional Liability Insurance, Professional Indemnity Insurance and AFTA membership. Filling the vacuum of an inexpensive annual TCF membership and a more expensive audit are now four new membership/ insurances, none of which are mandatory. However, until I have all the details I am very doubtful that I will experience any financial and time saving moving to this new system. Of more concern is that most customers will be worse off because human nature will dictate that unless the scheme is mandatory, like voting, the most agents will choose to avoid doing anything because it is too complicated to bother with and/or they want to save money. I have been in travel industry for 33 years and not one of my friends in travel has gone this far in the process yet.

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