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Position of travel agents as a result of IATA Passenger Agency Conference refusal to act

Disappointment and deception best describe the reaction of the travel agent members of the Global Consultative Committee, on being told the bad news…

Disappointment and deception best describe the reaction of the travel agent members of the Global Consultative Committee, on being told the bad news by their airline GCC colleagues. That news is that the meeting of the IATA<.> Passenger Agency Conference, in Miami, has failed to endorse two years GCC work aimed at overhauling and modernising the IATA Passenger Sales Agency Agreement. The agreement seeks to provide the travelling public with access to a reliable, unbiased and cost-effective distribution network.

The draft new agreement prepared by the GCC incorporates principles agreed by the same Conference in June 2000, following a two year study and objective evaluation of the IATA Agency Programme by the joint travel agent/airline New Millennium Task Force. The NMTF was guided by distinguished distribution systems specialist, Professor Frank Go of Erasmus University, in the Netherlands. The study report concluded that the agreement now in place is one-sided, and overly favours the airlines and reflects a master/servant relationship.

The GCC made a sincere effort to carefully draft a new agreement reflecting the principles of equity and fairness, transparency of dealings between business partners and meaningful consultation between airlines and travel agents.

The package presented by the GCC to the IATA Conference included many compromises, made on both sides, and was the fruit of honestly negotiated exchanges between trusting partners. It was thus not lightly arrived at by the GCC. Above all, it incorporated the basic principles recommended for inclusion by the NMTF, which were agreed by the Conference, two years ago.

It emerges from the Miami Passenger Agency Conference, however, that some members of IATA have no intention of changing the status quo.

Because of its closed door policy, Conference deliberations are secret and the identity of the opponents, known to be few in number, is not revealed. Under the outdated Conference unanimity rule, one negative vote is enough to defeat the GCC proposals, even if all the other airlines present are in support of the changes recommended. That state of affairs favours tyranny by the minority and explains why it is almost impossible to secure change through the IATA conference machinery. It is easier to destroy an existing agreement than to make a new one at the Conference.

The leader of the travel agent contingent to the GCC, Mike Hannah, immediate past President of UFTAA, who has led the travel agent team in this task for four years, summed up the group`s feelings when saying that the Miami Passenger Agency Conference, by the actions of a minority, has effectively destroyed the principal/agent relationship which the Conference is mandated to uphold and promote. Everybody will be a loser: the travel agent, the airlines and even more importantly the travelling public! He added that in consequence, the GCC will initiate and recommend for consideration by all travel agents around the world the following courses of action :

  • call on their respective governments to review the antitrust immunity granted to IATA members to control the distribution system.

  • initiate an urgent study into the development of an alternative to the present IATA accreditation system

  • establish an industry task force to immediately implement a global alternative to the IATA BSP system

  • actively support and participate in legal class actions against airlines

  • suspend until further notice all dialogue and consultations within the IATA Agency Programme.

Forty-nine year travel industry veteran Don Lunn, who led the European travel agents contingent on the GCC summed up the Conference action as humiliating to the travel agency community.

Lunn considers that by placing in peril the IATA Agency Programme`s chances of survival, the airlines have put the future of many of their own members in jeopardy. He warned that unless there is an eleventh hour waking up by the large majority of airlines to the fact that they are being maneuvered out of business by the minority with a vested interest in destabilising the industry, the days of the equal opportunity to compete on the level playing field provided by the present Agreement will soon be over.

The travel agency community will be placed at risk as will many of the airlines who depend so heavily on the IATA Agency Programme for over 80% of their sales. In these circumstances, travel agents are left with no choice but to fight for their right to survive to the benefit of the industry at large and, more importantly the travelling public in particular.