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AFTA Update

AFTA CEO Update | 5 May 2020

IN THE words of Hamlet; “to be or not to be – that is the question; whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and be opposing end them” would seem to me to be an appropriate quote in the light of whether to charge a cancellation fee or not. 

At a time when the travel agency community is hurting beyond words, beyond the contemplation of Hamlet, it would be wrong of me to say any other word than to charge. Over the past few days the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) appears to have taken the sword of Hamlet and placed it into the heart of the agency community. If it was not bad enough that the travel industry is already dealing with hundreds of thousands of cancellations and refund requests and all the while trying to accommodate customers as best we can and with the best possible and reasonable approach that we are able, the confusion and messaging left this week over should a cancellation fee be levied or not, appears open.

AFTA holds the strong view that travel agents are, where terms and conditions allow, free to charge whatever fee they feel necessary in order to operate and run their business. The ACCC does not have the power to set cancellation fees nor does it have the power to override existing cancellation clauses issued to consumers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic kicking in. 

For clarity, nothing in any of the statements made by the ACCC contradicts this fact – the statements have related to one agency only and that agency made its own decision. In order for travel agents to remain in business they must have the ability to gain income and given the approach towards remuneration by suppliers and the design of the industry remuneration models being based on booking, not cancelling, then I don’t know how the ACCC expects travel agents to remain in business during this crisis if no fees are to be charged. 

The complexity of all of this sadly has increased and there is no doubt that the social media and ferocious approach by the consumer media to pile on travel agents has not helped the situation. It has unfortunately not recognised the reality or the facts of the matter in that travel agents need an income stream in order to survive, how else then than a cancellation fee is this to be or not to be. 

AFTA will continue to put forward the strong view that agents need to charge fees for their services. People’s time cannot come free. It is simple economics and while all the various govt support packages may help prop up an agency, they do not keep them open. 

AFTA has continued to provide members with a strong understanding of the best way forward with cancellations and refunds. To see the AFTA-branded flyer for agencies to hand to customers - click here.  

We will continue to ensure the ongoing viability of travel agents at this dreadful time of the COVID-19 pandemic.