Did you know, every year since the Australian government deregulated the travel industry, Australian holiday-makers have increasingly sought accredited advisors for the highest standards of financial security and support?
Just before COVID hit, more than 70% of Australian households were booking at least part of their holiday through an Australian travel specialist, a figure that had risen 20% since 2012! Australians were voting with their wallets, a direct consequence of the increasing trend in "cheap" online offers, resulting in rising complaints and reduction in public confidence of the industry as a whole.
After COVID hit, it was the travel agents that worked with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to re-enforce the rules relating to cancellations and refunds. Now, when you book, the ACCC require that you understand exactly how your money is being used. Many local Australian travel businesses are still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from online booking websites, that took your money but didn't pay it forward (this is money that would have been held "in trust" by a travel agent).
Since COVID-19 struck, thousands of Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) members–mostly small businesses– have worked tirelessly to refund over $6 billion of customer money.
"A lot of people don’t realise how time consuming renegotiating is", says DeluxeLife's Jane Arthur. We’re handing back our commission, which is in-built, so for over a year we’ve been working for nothing … but we’ve been looking after our customers’ families for years, so we are proud to be able to stay in touch and keep the service going, despite the hardship".
The income travel advisors earned from commission last year has had to be paid back, making 98% dependent on JobKeeper or superannuation, while maintaining this important service for you. JobKeeper soon ends, yet consumer protection will continue, as it's a voluntary code that travel specialists sign up to.
You've probably already noticed that your local travel agent shopfront has closed. If you lose them, this will mean a massive loss in consumer protection for you, when you come to book your next substantial trip. Of the $60.8 billion spent by Australians on holidays each year, your own trusted travel specialists, are responsible for protecting $28 billion of this money.
Unfortunately, cheap-deal websites and so-called Online Travel Agents (OTAs) have been the focus of declining consumer confidence in recent years and it's not been easy to differentiate the good from the bad.
So, it's important to note, that in 2016 Choice.com.au was still reporting an 89% satisfaction rating for AFTA accredited travel agents, whereas most airlines scored less than 50% and customers reported more problems booking direct online than any other sector.
“Travel agents are very often working behind the scenes and rarely credited for the benefits they bring in financial and customer-advice terms”, says Nic Rone of Cruise Holidays Gold Coast. “It’s only when something goes wrong, that people complain and that’s when our customers are more likely to come to us for help”.
Consistent year-on-year growth in the number of holiday-makers using a travel specialist, shows just how important it is to Australians, to have a local company advocate for them, particularly when it comes to looking after their money.
The good news is that accredited travel agents enjoy enormous customer loyalty and there remains huge demand for their services. This is only expected to grow further post-COVID, since there will be far less certainty in the market than there was before.
With most businesses having contracted to become home-based, single operators, those that endure the next few months will be prepared for the upsurge in growth once vaccines have been rolled out.
If you can support them through this toughest of times, the industry will be well-positioned to do its part in the recovery of Australia’s economy, and once again lead the world in travel.
So please, consider using a travel agent for your next Australian holiday. It won't cost you more but you will be investing in the protection of your money into the future. When you come to make that overseas trip in a year or so, you won't regret this, as travel agents remain your principle source of consumer protection for your all-important holiday.