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While progress was made last week with Scott Morrison announcing a four-stage COVID Exit Plan, the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) urgently calls for hard timelines and transparency around the trigger points for each phase of the plan, to allow the industry to protect their businesses until international borders open.
Dennis Bunnik, Chairman of CATO said, “What the Federal Government is not taking into consideration is that businesses in the travel industry cannot continue to borrow financially, in order to keep their doors open for an indiscriminate amount of time. We need more than a commitment to create a plan – we need dates and scientific numbers”.
“The travel industry needs clear trigger points regarding vaccination levels for easing both domestic and international border restrictions. We need a simple and easy-to-access Vaccination Passport for non-restricted domestic travel – this can be used to incentivise vaccinations so that Australians can see the positive benefits of getting the jab. We also need approval of a 7-day home quarantine option for returning, fully-vaccinated international travellers”.
There is a three-month lead time between the first AstraZeneca vaccination and the second. Bunnik highlighted the fact that there needs to be more public messaging about planning ahead for travel and not waiting till the borders open before deciding to be vaccinated, as this may prolong travel further for consumers (three months plus) particularly for the over 50s and 60s.
Bunnik added, “The Government needs to protect the remaining high-skilled jobs in the travel sector through extending grant schemes and improving eligibility. In tandem, it needs to work with the travel industry to prepare for a return of international travel to avoid massive skills shortage and enable Australians to travel safely”.
· Many companies are fully extended financially and need transparency on how much longer they need to subsist without an income, in order to determine whether they can afford to go deeper into debt.
· Businesses need to know if a) they can afford to keep staff on until borders open and b) manage the work-load if travel resumes across domestic borders and international.
· Travel companies need to start creating travel products – this takes time and investment
Bunnik explained that it ultimately comes down to vaccinations needing to be more urgently available to the entire population and encouraged consumers who meet the criteria now to take up the opportunity to be vaccinated. “This will allow them the freedom to fly and reconnect with their family, loved ones, friends and or colleagues both domestically and internationally and to say goodbye to lockdowns and cancelled domestic travel,” he said.
The Council of Australia Tour Operators (CATO) held their 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday 24 June as the organisation sought member agreement on organizational reform and the exploration of new directions to support its members as part of a more sustainable travel industry.
Brett Jardine, Managing Director, CATO said, “In times of adversity, opportunities arise. One positive outcome of COVID was the time our Board had to discuss, plan and develop solutions to arising issues.”
CATO members voted unanimously to support a motion to change the associations structure from a statebased model to a federal-based model as a not-for-profit Company Limited by Guarantee. This will include a new constitution which will include a formal CATO Member Code of Conduct and CATO Member Advertising Code of Conduct.
Jardine said, “Votes received were 100% supportive of the motion to change and evolution under a structure that better reflects CATO’s status as a national body and enable it to move forward with progressive initiatives. As part of these changes CATO will develop an external independent accreditation scheme, fitfor-purpose, for the land supply sector. CATO members were also updated on the status of investigations into the development of exclusive insurance products, aimed at developing greater agent support and consumer confidence when booking travel product with CATO members.”
CATO’s proposed changes will engage with and encourage wider participation from all tour operators and wholesalers nationally with a view to seeking best practice and greater consistency across all participants. It will continue to collaborate closely with other industry bodies including AFTA, CLIA, ATEC and ACCI in areas of mutual benefit. CATO’s primary charter is to support its members and to create a more sustainable tourism industry, in this new era and post the COVID 19 pandemic.
The CATO AGM also revealed that the growing industry body had recorded a surplus of $76,000 with a significant portion of excess funds being used to support members via discounted 2022 membership renewals.
Jardine confirmed that membership retention for 2022 reached an impressive 94% with total member numbers increasing by 20% across all categories to a total of 180.
Voting of Board Members was concluded, and Dennis Bunnik (Bunnik Travel Group) was re-elected as Chairman unopposed and will continue in this capacity for two years.
The board members voted onto the board for the next term include Brett Mitchell (Intrepid Travel Group), Julie King (Julie King & Associates) and James O’Donnell (The Travel Corporation). Individuals that are currently mid-term on the CATO Board include - Vice Chair: Liz Anderson (Sundowners Overland), and Board Members: Lisa Pagotto (Crooked Compass); Brad McDonnell (Entire Travel Group); Peter Douglas (Globus Family of Brands); David Walker (Sno'n'Ski); Aaron Zoanetti (Pointon Partners).
Bunnik said, “I look forward to working with the appointed Board across our four pillars in another challenging year ahead, in order to implement significant, positive and much needed changes to our industry.
I would also like to acknowledge Martin Edwards (ex-Bench Africa) and Amanda McCann (Collette) who ended their term on the Board and thank them for their many years of contribution to CATO.”
The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) and TravelPay are partnering to launch a bank account supplier payments solution to provide secure EFT payments following the closure of the eNett EFT payment system.
‘TravelPay B2B in partnership with CATO’ will enable travel agents to make secure bank account payments to suppliers and wholesalers. In a move that closes a pending gap from the closure of the eNett EFT payment system, this launch provides service continuity for agents and suppliers.
Brett Jardine, Managing Director, CATO said, “CATO is delighted to work together with TravelPay to quickly bring this solution to market. Our members and travel agents have enough to deal with in the current COVID environment, so we’re pleased to be able to remove the concerns they had about facilitating secure EFT payments.”
TravelPay B2B will be launched alongside TravelPay’s popular consumer-to-agent payment solution that is utilised by over 1,000 travel agencies. TravelPay B2B is available to all agents and suppliers and will enable agents to easily process online bank account payments to suppliers with secure portals for agents and suppliers.
Andrea Slark, CEO of Zenith Payments which owns TravelPay added, “Within hours of hearing of the impending closure, we were inundated by calls from suppliers and agents asking if we could help, so we are thrilled to be able to expand our services to make supplier payments easy, secure and cost effective. Our team is working hard to launch TravelPay B2B and we have received positive feedback about this, not just from our existing TravelPay agents, but also from other agents and suppliers who are keen to come onboard.”
James O’Donnell, Finance Director at The Travel Corporation, added, “This is fantastic news for suppliers like us as we were concerned there would be a gap in the market. We are pleased that CATO and TravelPay could quickly work together to bring this much needed solution to the industry.”
Suppliers and agents can now register their interest to use ‘TravelPay B2B in partnership with CATO’ on travelpay.com.au and the service will launch in August to ensure service continuity. Further details will be announced shortly.
A CATO delegation consisting of CATO managing director Brett Jardine, Chairman Dennis Bunnik, and board member Brad McDonnell, were in Canberra on Tuesday 16 February as part of the travel industry’s ongoing lobbying effort to secure government financial support post JobKeeper.
L to R - Brad McDonnell - CEO Entire Travel Group & CATO Board Member; Dennis Bunnik - CATO Chair; Minister Tehan; Brett Jardine - CATO Managing Director.
The CATO delegation met with the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan, to explain the complex nature of the travel industry and the important role of the land supply sector within the travel ecosystem. The Minister was engaged and interested in learning more about the sector and the impacts of COVID.
"We were able to explain the importance of protecting highly skilled jobs and their key to ensuring continued business operations, enabling the redemption of travel credits for consumers and allowing Australians to travel safely once borders reopen," said Jardine.
Minister Tehan heard about CATO’s long standing relationship with DFAT and members’ role in helping to repatriate Australians during the height of the COVID crisis.
CATO explained the impact of COVID on the financial and emotional wellbeing of members and the broader travel industry.
"Whilst we understand the need to close borders, the travel industry has been the sacrificial lamb that has enabled our communities to remain largely COVID free and the wider economy to recover. Whilst the government continues to restrict our trade, it is vital that it provides support to enable us to survive. This support should include continued wage subsidies, grants to help cover overheads and Government backed loans (with delayed repayments) to bridge the cash-flow gap between now and when international travel actually recommences," said Jardine.
CATO Board members Brad McDonnell and Dennis Bunnik were able to provide details of the direct impact of COVID and government border policies on their respective business, Entire Travel Group and Bunnik Tours. In response, Minister Tehan immediately arranged for the CATO delegation to meet with the Senior Economic Advisor for Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.
During this meeting, and a further meeting with Austrade, CATO was able to delve into details on the support the industry will require post JobKeeper.
Jardine said, "The Government has repeatedly stated that JobKeeper will finish as scheduled at the end of March. Whilst they understand the need for further travel industry support, they are yet to finalise any assistance packages. As such, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan encouraged CATO and the entire travel industry to keep campaigning their local members on the impact of COVID and the ramifications of ending of JobKeeper to the tourism industry."
The travel industry is showing a united front in Canberra this week with AFTA CEO Darren Rudd also in the capital to meet with political leaders. CATO Chair Dennis Bunnik briefed Rudd on the outcomes of the meetings with the two organisations working together to ensure aligned messaging.
CATO is devastated to hear that Tucan Travel has been placed into voluntary administration, and would like to acknowledge its 33-year contribution to the travel and tourism industry and travellers alike.
CATO continues to lobby government for support to aid the recovery of Australia's tourism industry, and empathises with Tucan Travel's employees, consumers and suppliers who have been financially affected.
We want to acknowledge the significant hardship the Australian Tourism Industry is currently facing—and has faced over the last year—as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Information on the Tucan Travel website currently states:
On 2 February 2021, the Board of Directors of Tucan Travel Pty Ltd resolved to place the company in Voluntary Administration pursuant to Section 436A of the Corporations Act and appointed Mr Andrew Barnden of Rodgers Reidy (Sydney) as its Administrator.
The Administrator will formally contact all known creditors advising of his appointment and the Voluntary Administration process, this will include the Australia and New Zealand customers of Tucan Travel Pty Ltd.
In addition, as the company has ceased trading, any Australian or New Zealand customers who have paid for any travel with the company by way of Credit Card and/or PayPal are requested, in the first instance, to contact their Financial Institution/Bank (who issued the credit card) in an attempt to seek a chargeback/refund due to "the closure of the business as a result of the external administration of the company".
If creditors of Tucan Travel Pty Ltd have any additional queries, then they are requested to contact Rodgers Reidy on the following:
Responding to the Australian consumer advocacy group CHOICE releasing a 'Travel Cancellations due to COVID-19' survey, the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) contends that a number of questions in the survey are misleading and provocative.
CHOICE advised its survey is focused on investigating the state of refund rights in Australia, and campaigning for clearer consumer rights when travel arrangements are delayed or cancelled.
CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine recommended that if CHOICE is serious about participating in industry reform, it would be more productive for them to engage with our industry from the outset to ensure a clear understanding of the complexities involved. This approach would have been of greater value to consumers in helping them to understand, rather than launching a survey that is more likely to inflame consumer angst. CATO continues to welcome this approach.
The CHOICE survey asks, “Europe currently has stronger refund rights for consumers booking travel than in Australia. Should Australia’s laws be changed to make it easier to access refunds or compensation in the event of future events like COVID-19?”
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and by suggesting that European Law is the answer, leads to more confusion with consumers.”
CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine.
European Package Travel Regulations around travel refunds in circumstances of ‘extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances’ were never designed to cater for a global pandemic. It was designed for isolated cases, such as a terrorist attack in a specific destination that would affect travel for a limited time.
The EU (and the UK), have retracted this law during COVID as they have quickly realised that if every tour operator, travel agent or supplier gave refunds to consumers, the entire travel and tourism ecosystem would collapse.
The position of most EU Member States (as at today) is that a future travel credit can be issued by suppliers, and if it cannot be used within 18 months of travel restrictions being lifted, then the consumer is entitled to redeem the credit for cash. This approach will assist in the survival of the industry along with millions of jobs whilst also ensuring consumers are not left out of pocket.”
Jardine highlighted following close long-term engagement with the ACCC, “CATO has developed and delivered (for use by our members) a standardised set of industry booking terms and conditions in conjunction with a travel law specialist. This will ensure greater consistency across our sector in the future.”
Closing out a year like no other, Sydney’s Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) community gathered (Covid-safely, of course) at the impressive and popular Travel Industry Hub in North Sydney for their annual Christmas party.
Sponsored by Catalan Tourist Board, the evening came to life with delicious wine and interactive food tasting, showcasing the rich flavours the region is famous for.
The combination of live cooking stations in the expert hands of a Catalonian chef preparing aromatic pans of paella in front of guests, and a pair of cocineros on a live Zoom call from their patio in Barcelona, gave the event a genuine Catalan feel and stirred the wanderlust.
“It was wonderful to feel that sense of ‘travel’ again, and to deliver a proper Christmas gathering for such a positive group of people who have really had a difficult 2020,” said CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine.
For the CATO executive team, 2020 has been its busiest ever year as it advocated, lobbied, engaged with national media, and communicated to and supported its members in every way possible.
“We are all looking forward to 2021 though we’re under no misgivings about the likely timelines of a return to pre-pandemic travel. The CATO community is resilient and will be ready to take Australians to the world’s most wonderful places as soon as they’re ready to travel,” said Jardine.
The Council of Australia Tour Operators (CATO) Managing Director, Brett Jardine and Chairman, Dennis Bunnik last week met with Federal Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham at his Adelaide office.
Image: Brett Jardine (CATO Managing Director), Dennis Bunnik (CATO Chairman), Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham.
As Minister of Finance, Minister of Trade, Tourism & Investment and Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Birmingham is one of Australia’s most senior politicians, and CATO seized the opportunity to provide the Senator with in-depth information on the complexity and challenges of the travel industry ecosystem.
Senator Birmingham was appreciative of the extensive briefing as the government continues to consider and develop industry specific support programs.
Senator Birmingham acknowledged CATO’s efforts as an industry body in liaising with government departments including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT).
CATO updated the Senator on its broad engagement across the industry locally and overseas, and its work with the travel insurance sector in preparation for the post-COVID recovery. The Senator commended CATO for its proactive approach using this crisis as a catalyst, to ensure members and the broader travel industry have a long-term sustainable future.
Lengthy discussion focused on the structure of Australia’s outbound travel industry and the role CATO members take to invest in, develop, market, distribute and deliver product that is sold primarily through retail travel agents.
CATO highlighted with Senator Birmingham the position of the land-supply sector that underpins 40,000 travel industry jobs here in Australia, that subsequently plays an integral role in the success of aviation into and out of Australia, that is 100% complimentary to Australia’s inbound tourism sector and delivers AU$20 billion in economic impact to this country.
CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine advised Senator Birmingham that, “the majority of product developed by our sector is distributed through retail travel agencies, and CATO members will play a vital role in enabling Australians to travel again safely once the borders reopen.”
Jardine added, “Not only are our member’s products sold by travel agents for Australians to experience holidays all over the world, CATO members are also heavily invested in domestic holidays that have a significant positive economic impact on regional Australia, and will be first to market, investing in product and reemploying staff as we emerge from COVID.”
As part of discussions with Senator Birmingham, Jardine confirmed that CATO members directly support the retail travel sector, funnelling more than AU$1.25 billion via commissions, incentives, brochure printing/distribution, conference support and educational trips for travel agents.
Infographic showing the importance of both the Retail and Manufacturing sides of the travel industry.
CATO stressed the importance of the continuation of JobKeeper at higher rates for those industries that remain 85%-100% down due to the closure of borders. Furthermore, Jardine confirmed that CATO is actively supporting the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) in their efforts to secure government funding via grants and back to business loans for the industry to ensure ongoing collaboration as we look to inspire Australians to travel again post-COVID.
With no outbound travel, aviation capacity has been slashed, devastating Australia's inbound tourism sector. Each of these factors has a massive impact on Australia’s economy.
In 2018-19, tourism was a key driver of growth for the Australian economy. Domestic and international tourism spend totalled $122 billion, making the industry one of Australia’s biggest employers and economic contributors.
THIS WELL-RESEARCHED ARTICLE sums up the current state of our outbound travel sector.
Peter is Head of Sales at Globus Family of Brands, and was recently elected to the CATO Board for the first time. In this quick Q&A, he takes a look at the role CATO and tour operators will play as the industry emerges from the COVID pandemic, and his quest to see a blue footed booby.
What was your first 'travel' job, and where does your passion for travel come from?
Working in reservations for a different tour operator. My grandfather was a great traveller and his stories inspired me to see the world. Once I graduated from a teaching degree at Uni, I spent the next year and a half travelling and never came back to teaching. I was bitten.
What are you most looking forward to delivering, influencing or achieving during your time on the CATO Board?
The Globus family of brands (GFOB) is a major player in the region and I would like to add GFOB’s voice to the table as a respected and long-term operator. I look forward to working together with the other board members to create opportunity, guidance and a strong voice for Australian tour operators.
Image: Peter with a baby gator in Louisiana
CATO is the peak representative body for the Australian travel industry's land supply sector, what role do you see it playing in the local industry's recovery from the global covid-19 shutdown?
I believe CATO plays an intrinsic role in promoting the land sector amongst the trade and I look forward to leveraging my experience and relationships to help CATO support our industry to recover.
The role of CATO is especially relevant in a post COVID world where consumers need to feel comfortable and secure to make bookings and the CATO badge can contribute to instilling that confidence. We can also help to educate both trade and consumers about the benefits of touring from a health and safety perspective and inspire them with the range of experiences touring can offer.
CATO Members create and supply travel product to Australia's retail travel networks, what role will those members play in helping retail find its feet again?
Retail travel agents play a vital role in this market in terms of providing consumers with choice of product that best suit their clients’ requirements. CATO represents such a broad cross section of land suppliers which will fulfill this need for choice of quality operators.
How can CATO strengthen its relationship with travel agents even more deeply, to ensure things are beneficial for everyone on the other side COVID-19?
Training is key, both to update experienced agents and to train new ones on the benefits of booking a tour. If we give travel agents the tools and confidence to better sell touring this helps us as the operator and gives agents the invaluable product knowledge that they need. This is especially relevant in helping agents gain an understanding of the health and safety protocols that we all adhere to and have been updating regularly during this time
Fundamentally, how changed will tourism be when international borders re-open and people start moving again? Will the travel experiences created and operated by the Globus family of brands, for example, be noticeably different?
The pent-up demand to travel is massive. Once it is safe to travel, I think we are going to see people travelling in record numbers. At GFOB, we want to keep delivering the stress-free holidays we’re known for so have introduced a worldwide assurance program which will protect the health and safety of our guests. The program looks at travel protocols and procedures, including reduced ship and tour capacities, mandatory health checks for all staff and guests, new cleaning technologies and increased hands-free facilities.
If you could travel to any place on the planet right now, where would it be?
I was planning to travel to the Galapagos and Peru in May on Monograms with my wife. I would love to be able to rebook that trip. The blue footed booby and Machu Pichu will still be there when the situation changes. I can’t wait to jump on a ridiculously long set of flights and see it all for myself.