A spate of unconnected travel agency collapses in various parts of Australia with loss of consumer funds, some involving agents absconding, has prompted some crucial questions.
Speaking after news emerged of an arrest and charges in relation to the sudden closure of South Australia’s Zym Travel (see: Police arrest travel agency owner as probe continues), TravelManagers’ chairman Barry Mayo pointed out that the arrest would do nothing to help Zym Travel’s many customers. Their money had gone and their travel plans had been disrupted.
“Nor does it do anything to uphold travel agency industry integrity,” Mayo commented.
“TravelManagers feels extremely strongly about the issues of consumer protection or defending the integrity of the travel agency community and continues to question government, including the South Australian Government, around the indisputable inadequacies of the deregulated model that has been established in place of the disbanded state licensing and national consumer protection scheme.
“With the disestablishment of the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) there have been six travel agency collapses (since 14 May 2015) with consumer losses to date.”
Mayo, who supports the return of the TCF, said TravelManagers did not see the situation for consumer protection or upholding travel agency integrity improving without continued discussion and questioning.
TravelManagers has put forward three points that it would like to see debated within the wider travel industry:
- “Industry regulation and consumer protection will be upheld through the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and voluntary initiatives.”
How will the ACL assist customers of Zym Travel and the customers of the previous five travel agency collapses since 14 May 2015 to have their tickets reinstated or their lost money recovered when it is likely the principals of the defaulting agents will have no assets?
- “The ACL provides appropriate protection for consumers.”
Can any Government Minister responsible for consumer affairs demonstrate how the ACL has provided protection for the customers of Zym Travel and the previous five travel agency insolvencies since 14 May?
- “The Australian Federation Travel Agents (AFTA) has developed a voluntary accreditation scheme (ATAS) for the industry which will help consumers identify reputable businesses.”
Can any Government representative comprehensively demonstrate in detail exactly what has been done to help consumers identify reputable businesses?
Mayo contends that ATAS in its current form does not meet the needs of the consumer nor the travel agency community and unless there is a more robust approach to the security of consumer funds, “the outlook for both for consumers and industry is extremely dire”.
“The question now – how many more consumers will be adversely affected before action is taken?
“It is critical that industry and government actively confront this extremely important industry and consumer issue.”
Written by Peter Needham