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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.
The Council of Australia Tour Operators (CATO) met with fellow industry bodies in recent weeks —Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC)—with a view to confirming relevant cross-sector support.
CATO's Adelaide-based chairman, Dennis Bunnik, took advantage of the recently re-opened South Australia-New South Wales border to visit Sydney for high-level meetings with the other industry associations.
"Throughout the COVID crisis, CATO has vigorously advocated for industry unity and working together for the greater good. These high-level meetings with CLIA and ATEC were an important part of this process," said Bunnik.
Through the series of meetings, conversations centred around joint concerns over border closures, government support, media coverage, COVID-safe travel protocols and the rebuilding of consumer confidence post-pandemic.
Describing the collaborative efforts, CATO's Managing Director Brett Jardine noted that, "Even though each association is dealing with its own unique challenges around COVID, there are common threads that are important to explore for the benefit of all of us."
Image: Joel Katz and Gavin Smith from CLIA, with CATO's Dennis Bunnik and Brett Jardine.
CATO's discussions with CLIA acknowledged that the industry sectors they represent produce an enormous quantity of the product supplied to—and marketed cooperatively through—travel agents.
"CATO and CLIA members are heavily invested in retail distribution. It's clear that both sectors will play a vital role in leading the recovery of the outbound travel industry," says Jardine.
The two bodies also shared information on government lobbying efforts around border issues, and committed to continue working together on this and other areas of mutual interest.
CATO leadership also met with ATEC's Managing Director, Peter Shelley, to consider the travel industry’s product distribution eco-system, and the importance of tour operators, wholesalers and Inbound Tour Operators which are largely hidden from government view but will be critical for the industry’s recovery.
Image: ATEC’s Peter Shelley with Brett Jardine and Dennis Bunnik from CATO.
"Whilst CATO is focused primarily on outbound travel, and ATEC focused on inbound, our needs are 100% complimentary as our members’ products and services underpin aviation capacity into and out of Australia. It is vital that we join forces in supporting a coordinated plan to open our borders," says Jardine.
Aaron is a partner at Pointon partners Lawyers and probably the only lawyer in Australia that operates a tour business. Aaron was recently elected to the CATO Board for the first time, and in this quick Q&A, he takes a look at the future of travel, and the role CATO can play in the industry's recovery in Australia.
You're a lawyer with a travel background, tell us a little about your travel industry experience.
I fell into travel by accident – when I was in university, a bunch of friends and I developed a community of soccer fans to support Australia’s national teams known as the ‘Green & Gold Army’. The community developed to a stage where we were able commercialise it through the sale of organised travel packages to major soccer tournaments.
We’ve been operating group travel programs since the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Our last major project was for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, where we delivered group travel programs for around 700 Australians.
From the legal side, I never really had a focus on travel law until I moved to London in 2015 and fell into a role with a firm that had a travel industry speciality. I acted for numerous tour operators, OTAs, wholesalers and agent groups while in the UK.
I moved back to Melbourne at the end of 2018 and started a dedicated Travel, Tourism & Events practice group at my current firm, Pointon Partners.
You've consulted to CATO for a few years in a legal capacity with your company, Pointon Partners, what motivated you to run for a position on the CATO Board?
I’ve been actively involved with CATO since early 2019 when I presented at CATO’s ‘Crisis Management’ conference - who would’ve thought the learnings of that day would be activated little more than a year later.
During the Covid-crisis, my involvement increased and I worked with Brett Jardine (MD) and Dennis Bunnik (Chairman) to represent the industry in discussions with the ACCC in relation to consumer credits and the like.
From that work, I thought there was a need for a ‘legal voice’ on the CATO Board.
Something of an outsider, what experience, expertise or unique viewpoints do you think you'll bring to the CATO Board?
I think I bring a unique mix of legal and practical industry experience - I would assume I’m probably the only lawyer in Australia that actually operates a tour operating business.
I understand the difficulties industry operators are experiencing, because my business is going through the same pain – we had some large programs planned for the Tokyo Olympics and the Copa America soccer tournament in Argentina. So we are dealing with refund demands, credits and all of that.
From the legal side of things, I act for 50 + tour operators of various sizes and so I’m also able to use the general feedback from my clients to contribute to discussions on issues the CATO Board are considering.
CATO has developed into a strong and active voice for the land supply sector. Covid has really highlighted the need for industry participants to come together to achieve best outcomes. I see CATO continuing its advocacy, representative and educational work to ensure the land supply sector is able to navigate through the crisis as best it can.
From the leisure side of things, retail’s bounce-back will be more difficult if there isn’t interesting and compelling product to sell. I know CATO members are using the ‘down-time’ to concentrate on developing new and interesting product offerings to meet changed consumer expectations. Hopefully this work will assist retail to find its feet sooner than later.
Fundamentally, how changed do you think tourism will be when international borders re-open and people start moving again?
I suppose it all depends on whether or not an effective vaccine is developed. The industry will no doubt experience consolidation regardless. From a travelling public perspective, maybe I’m being naïve, but I don’t think the ‘tourism experience’ will change all that much. But hopefully it means the end of the buffet!
Having been cooped-up in Melbourne for past month or so, I’ve had plenty of time to dream about laying on a sun-lounger with a cocktail at a beach club in Mykonos!
The recent joint call for the re-opening of Australia’s borders by travel industry heavyweights—Flight Centre, Helloworld, Qantas and Virgin Australia—is strongly supported by CATO and its members. It follows a similar push by the Save Australian Tourism group led by hoteliers James & Hayley Baillie, and a petition on the Qantas website.
“The continued closure of Australian domestic borders despite low or nil infection rates is having a devastating impact on the travel and tourism industry and the many hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on them. It is also causing unnecessary mental stress and anguish to countless Australians cut off from their families located interstate.” - CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine
With proper test and trace protocols in place, CATO believes now is the time to start safely opening borders so that the travel and tourism industry can commence its recovery.
Describing the role CATO and its land-supply sector members play, Jardine said, “Our tour operator and wholesale members create, supply and deliver the land-based travel services sold through Australian travel agencies. They play a significant role in underpinning the 40,000 jobs that comprise the Australian outbound travel sector.”
CATO is also calling for the Federal Government to move forward with plans for the initial safe opening of domestic borders followed by the implementation of safe travel bubbles with nearby countries that have similar low infection rates. This will allow systems and protocols to be tested so we can commit to the safe opening of other borders.
Jardine added that, “Many CATO members created domestic programs when international borders closed. Many of these programs are now being re-assessed and cancelled due to unnecessary domestic border closures putting even further financial pressure on travel businesses and impacting their ability to save jobs.”
CATO Member, Tweet World Travel, has organised a national event that we will be supporting on Saturday 10th October.
Called 'Stay Strong and Walk together', the event is being held at locations throughout Australia. Its goal is to raise $25,000 with all proceeds to go directly to Beyond Blue, the leading organisation supporting mental health and well-being.
The non-competitive 10-kilometre fundraising walks take place along scenic trails in each participating city—Adelaide, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Sydney and Perth.
A fee of $50 per participant is required upon registration, and all proceeds will be donated to Beyond Blue.
Each participant will receive a $50 travel voucher from Tweet World Travel, and a grand prize of a $1,500 travel voucher will be awarded by lucky draw during BBQ sessions at the end of the walk in each location.
If you can't take part, you can choose to donate directly to Beyond Blue HERE.
"2020 has been a stressful year for everyone. This is an event to get everyone together to support people in hardship, especially those affected by anxiety, depression, and suicide," said Amanda Davies, Event Coordinator of the Tweet World Foundation.
"It’s all about coming together, improving your physical and mental well-being and, of course, having a whole lot of socially-distant fun in the process,' added Amanda.
This event targets a variety of industries affected by COVID-19. The travel industry was initially targeted as Tweet World Foundation recognised the struggle the industry was going through amid COVID-19. During the planning phase, a variety of travel agencies in each state expressed interests to donate and volunteer their time to coordinate the events. Once discussed among Tweet World Travel’s network, a range of organisations in different industries including hospitality, healthcare and education also have expressed interests to join force to make this event successful.
"We welcome all donations, participation and support for this worthwhile cause. We need as much help as possible," said Twee Carroll, the Managing Director of Tweet World Travel.
"We care for everyone’s health and well-being, especially members of the travel industry and other industries severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. We want them to know that they are not alone, and help is available," she added.
The Stay Strong and Walk Together will be held at these locations:
CLICK HERE for detailed event information
AND CLICK HERE to donate!
About Tweet World FoundationTweet World Foundation is the not-for-profit charity of Tweet World Travel Group. Tweet World Foundation and its founders aim to give back to the communities where they work, live and travel. The Foundation focuses on giving at home in Australia and to disadvantaged communities in some of the most poverty-stricken regions in Asia.
For questions or inquiries please contact:
The discussion paper was produced with industry-wide input and identifies two key areas of reform:
The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) has released a discussion paper with the view of creating a path forward for the Australian outbound travel industry post-COVID.
CLICK HERE to access the discussion paper.
"A few months ago, CATO called for suggestions for industry reform. The aim being to use the COVID crisis to break down some of the industry’s silos and find a way to come out stronger."
CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine
The response was significant with CATO receiving submissions and ideas from all over the industry.
"Two issues in particular were raised time and again. These related to a consumer protection scheme, and reforming ATAS - the AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme. Our discussion paper is intended to spark debate and discussion on these topics," added Jardine.
The CATO Board developed the discussion paper over a two-month period.
The reform CATO is proposing is two-fold:
Whilst still administered by AFTA, the desire is for such a scheme to be overseen by an independent board with representation from each outbound sector—retail, land supply and cruise—that would sign off on the accreditation criteria for their respective sectors.
"We believe this will significantly broaden ATAS membership and bring many non-accredited businesses into the fold," Jardine said.
CATO believes that, if adopted, the proposals would provide consumer protection against supplier insolvency, industry protection against credit card chargebacks, and a compelling reason for Australians to book with ATAS-accredited entities thereby protecting the local travel industry.
"Our industry is in the biggest crisis it has ever faced. Now is the time to come together. Now is the time to reassess everything and to see if there’s a way for our industry to come out better than we went in," asserts Jardine.