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ITAA Elections: Meet The Candidates – Paul Hackett

ITAA Elections: Meet The Candidates – Paul Hackett

The ITAA presidential election will take place in a couple of weeks time, so ITTN took the opportunity to speak to both candidates to find out what they thought about some of the issues.

We asked them six identical questions. Today’s turn in the ITTN hot seat goes to Paul Hackett of ClickandGo.com.

Ballot papers have been posted to members and they must be received back by Thursday 10 June.

The result will be announced on Tuesday 15 June and the AGM of the ITAA is on Thursday 17 June.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

Paul Hackett after addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee

Q. How can the ITAA encourage younger staff members to be involved?

For me this is not only about younger members but all travel agency staff who are not currently directly involved in the ITAA. The most valuable asset the ITAA has are its members and I believe we have pools of talent in our businesses that we need to release. Once COVID is over, we’ll be back to competing as normal but one of the best outcomes from COVID has been the level of sharing and cooperation amongst members and non-members. We need to encourage involvement beyond the current layer of owner/managers and get the message out there that the ITAA is an inclusive organisation that encourages participation from employees in all aspects of the industry.

The first thing we need to do is ask that cohort currently not involved in the Association how they feel they can contribute, how we can include them and how best to communicate with them. We also need to consider some form of representation for this group, so they have access to the board.

Q. Is there a case for a few regional meetings each year?

I think this is a good idea and one positive outcome of the pandemic has made virtual meetings much easier and normal. As our membership is so spread-out though out the country travelling to meetings has always been an issue so regular virtual meetings can now easily be facilitated. A case could be made for a mix of regional and national meetings to keep members updated and in touch with each other. As things stand, we already hold two regional meetings each year.

To encourage better attendance and generate engagement, the regional members will be asked for their key topics for the agendas going forward.

Q. Information is important. How would you regularly update members?

To be honest, I think the Association does a good job of communicating out general travel media coverage, specific ITAA media coverage and general updates, all of which tend to be by email.

I think we could tailor our communications, define what is relevant to the different cohorts and give them specific news that relates to them and their roles within the industry.

I know there are changes in train for the website and that needs to be more a go-to resource, not only for the public but also for managers and staff.

We need to consider the learnings from how we have communicated in the last 15 months and whilst we may be tired of Zoom and Teams and yearn for real people contact, we have all moved ahead in the tech space and need to continue to do so.

Q. Why are you standing for the position of President?

Sometimes a crisis brings out the best in people. I think it did amongst us as travel agents and the Board of the ITAA. Fifteen months ago, the Board went into crisis management mode, and we set up a core group who could work at speed on the most pressing issues with Government, CAR, and all public representatives. This core group worked very effectively and closely with our fellow Board members, keeping them updated on all matters.

If elected President of the ITAA, I want to build on what we achieved in the last fifteen months and the way we work. The workload has been substantial, but it was spread across the Board. The role of President is key to the team on the Board, and I am honoured to enjoy the support of the majority of the Board in my candidacy for President of the ITAA.

As a trade representative body, we need to both retain and attract new members, we need to reach out to the entire industry, and we need to continue to be seen as the representative voice for travel. We must be relevant and support the members and we should focus on sharing best practice.

The ITAA punch way above our weight as a representative association in terms of the public, the media, Government, and other bodies. How many associations with less than 100 members get the attention and focus that we do?

Q. What are your 2/3 key things you would like to change in the ITAA?

One of the first things I would like to do is encourage all members and their teams to become actively involved in the ITAA. As previous stated we want to release the talent that already sits within the association. Involvement from all staffing levels is something that I would like see happen.

Alongside the CEO, we, as the ITAA, were in front of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport three times in the last 8 months (Oct 2020, Feb and May 2021).

This gave us a platform to address the issues directly impacting travel agents such as double-bonding and challenges with merchant service providers, the legislation we work under (PTD and EU261) and its impact on refunds specifically from Ryanair plus the challenge of public liability insurance cover and costs. I want to maintain that level of engagement with the legislators in a public forum such as the JOC because that can deliver results from other Government Departments and the Regulator.

I would like to further develop the level of consciousness the consumer has about the ITAA brand and continue to build on the recognition the association has garnered over the last 15 months. I feel it is vital that we continue to be prominent in the public arena.

With COVID all of us were laser-focussed on the economics and finances of our business. We had to adapt our businesses and business models. We need to retain that agility and build a level of excellence within our sector. CAR licensed approximately €1.4 billion in 2019. That is a very significant number and demonstrates the spend by Irish consumers with Irish licensed travel companies.

Q. How would you encourage non members to join the ITAA?

To retain members, we need to ensure the membership fee is value for money. To attract new members, I believe that we have demonstrated to them that it is worth their while joining the Association.

Over the past fifteen months, in our communications and workings with Government, we did not discriminate between members and non-members – the ITAA spoke for everyone. Every travel agent in Ireland will have directly or indirectly benefited from the level of engagement the Association had with the various parts of Government. The professionalism of the Association was evident, and we need to keep focus on that so that non-members see it as beneficial for them to join the ITAA.

Membership is now way more than the bond but we need to build the brand of the ITAA so consumers choose member companies, that would be a real win for membership.

We face some serious challenges ahead in terms of staffing, maintaining margins, being agile and adapting our business around how consumers want to buy and what they buy. This is on top of the mundane challenges with Insurance, Merchant Service Providers, as well as Legal and regulatory changes. We need to convince non-members that it is worthwhile joining the Association and once a member that we want their active participation.

 

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Fionn Davenport is the editor-in-chief of the ITTN group, including ITTN and ITTN Ireland. He's one of Ireland's best-known travel journalists and writers, with nearly 30 years' experience writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet and others.

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