In a sample survey by Irish Travel Trade News of Irish travel agents nationwide, 78% of respondents said that the Irish Travel Agents Association was currently not of relevance to their business. However, 78% also said that the ITAA could be more relevant to their business and 44.5% said they would use the ITAA if it became “a commercial negotiator”.
Following responses to Michael Doorley’s proposal that the ITAA “becomes the commercial negotiator on behalf of members” (see ittn.ie/news-features/a-future-for-the-itaa/), Irish Travel Trade News emailed a five-part questionnaire to 30 travel agents – 10 members of each of the three consortia: Travel Centres, Travelsavers, and Worldchoice. The first four questions required a Yes, No or Don’t Know answer. The results were as follows:
1. Are you happy with your existing consortium?
YES: 78%; NO: 22%; DON’T KNOW: 0%
2. If the ITAA were to become “a commercial negotiator” would you use it, rather than your existing consortium?
YES: 44.5%; NO: 22%; DON’T KNOW: 33.5%
3. Is the ITAA currently relevant to your business as a travel agent?
YES: 22%; NO: 78%; DON’T KNOW: 0%
4. Could the ITAA be more relevant to your business as a travel agent?
YES: 78%; NO: 11%; DON’T KNOW: 11%
5. If yes, how could it be more relevant?
The respondents were guaranteed that neither their names nor the names of their agencies would be revealed, but they were from all three consortia, from small to large agencies, and from all parts of the country. The following is a representative sample of the comments received:
“I am very happy with my consortium. I gave up the ITAA a few years ago – I only found it useful for the bond, but I have got my own bond in the past few years.”
“If the ITAA became a negotiator, I believe that it would carry a lot more weight with tour operators, airlines and suppliers of all kinds due to its high profile over the years as a reputable body within the travel trade.”
“The ITAA should present retail travel agents as a professional body to the general public, representing high standards of service and best practice within the industry.”
“I am not a member of the ITAA, but it would give a reason to consider rejoining if the commercial benefits were there.”
“The ITAA could do an awful lot more to promote its members as professionals and give each agency a new branding that would be instantly recognisable to the public as a guarantee of the highest standards within the trade, coupled with the guarantee of the bond and all that that means to the individual traveller.”
“The ITAA could become more relevant by making the public aware of the importance, experience and value of travel agents – that we actually exist, that our products and services can be cheaper than the Internet.”
“The ITAA is the ultimate consortium – it has potential to negotiate on behalf of all agents. The consortia exist only because of the vacuum left by the non-performance of the ITAA on the commercial side.”
“We attended ITAA Chapter meetings, which were a great way of sharing information and debating our grievances.”
“We need a new focus and someone to push the travel agent as the very best all round option for advice, product knowledge, competitive pricing, and professionalism in a sector where we as travel agents are undervalued – not just by the travelling public, but increasingly so by tour operators, airlines and suppliers of all travel products to us.”
“The ITAA could bring more relevant technology to small travel agents, such as assistance with websites and social media – to lead and react to the current changes in the market place.”
“The ITAA could become more relevant by negotiating commercial deals for its members.”
“Today it is all about getting the best deals for all involved in these difficult times. If the ITAA had a reduced fee for a year and its negotiated deals were more favourable then I would consider using the ITAA in the long term. However, it would mean the three consortia would become defunct and the people involved made redundant.”
“It is all about making the ITAA what it was 15 years ago. Otherwise you have to let it go as members will not keep paying dead money into something while getting no sense of value – we have done that for long enough.”
“The ITAA is currently relevant in relation to updating training courses and ongoing situations within the trade. However, I am on my own for four out of the six days, which makes it is difficult for me to go to meetings etc or to utilise the ITAA to full advantage.”
“For me it’s all about keeping my head above water and getting the best deals possible that can be arranged through larger volumes.”
“There should be more advertising countrywide on the values of the ITAA and what the Association represents.”
Just a quick note to say well done on the survey. The comments prove that there are still quite a few blinkered agents out there who fail or refuse to understand the situation they are in.
To consider making the ITAA a commercially driven entity representing the trade would bring it into the realm of dominant position again and defeat the whole idea. At present the consortia provide a valuable service to the groups they represent without fear of competition rules. If one body represents all when negotiating with suppliers they would run the risk of being told “we get the business anyway so why would we pay more?”. The consortia, because of their size can offer different benefits to suppliers and can do more to gain advantage for their members.
A more streamlined body, more budget consciousness with a lower cost base with the following aims would be the best way forward providing the best at a reasonable membership to all agents irrespective of size with equal say.
1) promote the roll of the travel agent to the public.
2) Ensure a voice in all matters of legislation in Ireland and Europe that affect the way agents do business.
3) Represent agents in trying to achieve better treatment from suppliers such as airlines and tour operators. Ensure a fair crack of the whip for agents in advertising, promotions and online sales.
4) Provide cost effective training to ensure agents are equipped to deal with clients in the rapidly changing technological environment.