The travel industry continues to make headlines for the wrong reasons.
That’s the feeling of TravelManagers’ Chairman Barry Mayo, along with a fair few others in the industry. Mayo points to a report entitled ‘Travel agent disappears with money, leaving customers stranded’, which appeared in Sydney’s Sun-Herald on Sunday 24 April.
For a report on that event in this edition of Global Travel Media, along with a media release issued by NSW Fair Trading, see Travel agent ‘vanishes’ after leaving clients stranded.
The Sun Herald report also featured across New South Wales online publications of Daily Liberal, The Border Mail, Illawarra Mercury, Northern Daily, The Young Witness and Western Advocate, Mayo points out. It was even carried online by Fairfax in New Zealand.
The report states that the agency owner Taha Baghdadi from Bankstown-based Pack N Go Travel was recently prosecuted and ordered to pay almost AUD 30,000 in fines, cost and compensation to three victims who lost their money and were left stranded at Sydney Airport, their holidays ruined before they had even begun.
Mayo continues to voice his concerns about yet another negative media report where clients have lost money through a travel agency collapse making news, even though the failure of Pack N Go Travel occurred eighteen months ago.
“This travel agency collapse appears to have gone undetected and unreported until this weekend. You have to question are there more travel agent closures where consumers have lost money that have gone unreported, yet we may read about in future news reports?”
The Sun Herald report quotes the New South Wales Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe stating that the agency owner’s actions “are a clear case of a travel agent engaging in unconscionable conduct” and advising that “consumers could protect themselves from dodgy travel agents by checking they belonged to the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ travel accreditation scheme.”
Mayo is concerned that this advice, albeit assumedly unintentional, is misleading for consumers.
“By representing that consumers booking travel through an ATAS accredited agent will be protected against financial loss is clearly not true. ATAS accreditation, by itself, affords no consumer protection against an agent’s failure to account. As has been shown since May 2015, there have been three ATAS accredited agencies that have failed financially, two of which have left consumers without their money and travel arrangements.”
Mayo advises that Pack N Go Travel’s consumer losses occurred approximately six months after the New South Wales and other state governments dismantled the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF).
“The reality is if the TCF still existed or the government had insisted it be replaced by an alternative consumer protection scheme, these customers from Pack N Go Travel would be unaffected and the fund would have ensured they received their travel arrangements or had their money returned. It’s that simple. Yet instead the industry continues to be marred by media reports of unscrupulous travel agent behaviour which with every negative report contributes to an unnecessary undermining of consumer confidence in booking with the many professional and financially sound travel agents.”
Mayo strongly believes the state governments are guilty of disbanding the TCF without ensuring the travelling public was provided with an effective form of consumer protection against travel agent insolvency.
“It can no longer be disputed that consumer losses now being experienced are as a direct result of state governments disbanding the TCF without first ensuring it was replaced with an alternative form of reliable universal consumer protection. State governments need to acknowledge these consumer losses are not going to cease and recognise that an accreditation scheme without consumer compensation is of little value from both consumer and industry perspectives.”
Mayo reminds the travel agency community that AUD 23 million dollars of TCF funds contributed by travel agents remains intact and asks the question what do the state governments intend to do with the fund’s remaining AUD 23 million dollars?
“Immediate steps need to be taken to ensure these funds are used to reinstate a more robust financial oversight of the industry and provision of consumer protection.”
Mayo believes the state governments have a responsibility to their constituents and must take responsibility and urgent action to insist on an alternative form of consumer protection against travel intermediary insolvency that is consistent and universal.
“How many more consumers need to be out of pocket before the state governments finally take some positive action to ensure the integrity of the Australian travel agent industry is not further compromised?”
Edited by Peter Needham