Travel industry accreditation scheme should be strengthened to improve consumer protections
31st May 2022
Stronger industry regulation through the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) accreditation scheme (ATAS) will help address consumer issues highlighted by the recent pandemic lock-downs, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
The use of trust accounts, more transparency in relation to fees, commissions and cancellation rules plus more disclosure regarding the relationships between the travel agent and suppliers are some of the recommendations the ALA has made in a submission to AFTA.
“The pandemic travel restrictions made it very clear that Australian Consumer Law does not properly protect consumers,” said Ms Victoria Roy, travel lawyer and spokesperson for the ALA.
“Many Australians wrongly assumed that the law would protect them from losing their money when government restrictions forced them to cancel their travel plans. We see too many disappointed people who seek legal advice in an attempt to recover funds or receive remedies when things go wrong, only to find that the law does not fully protect them.
“Reform to Australian Consumer Law is needed to fix the gaps however, until any reforms are made, stronger industry regulation will benefit consumers and help restore confidence in the travel industry.”
In its submission, the ALA made several recommendations in relation to the review of the AFTA accreditation scheme charter. Recommendations include providing terms and conditions to customers in clear and comprehensible language at the time of booking, as well as providing the terms and conditions of relevant suppliers.
“We are recommending that ATAS participants are required to provide consumers upfront with all the terms and conditions which form part of the travel contract and details of the various parties involved,” said Ms Roy. “The terms and conditions, and the role of other parties in the transaction have a significant effect on a consumer's rights.
“Being required to provide detailed terms and conditions upfront gives consumers the certainty of knowing their rights and avoids a repeat of the attempts to change terms and conditions retrospectively that consumers faced during the pandemic.”
In addition, the ALA is recommending that the use of trust accounts should be an industry standard and a requirement for ATAS accreditation.
“The use of trust accounts by ATAS participants to hold consumers’ funds would solve the serious issues that arise when a travel agent becomes insolvent,” said Ms Roy. “This is devasting for consumers who have made bookings with them and the consumer has made payment to the travel agent but it has not passed on to the supplier yet.
“Trust accounts are used by some travel agents but, rather than being optional, this should be an industry standard.”
Read the ALA’s full submission here.