Credit card fees, commission and industry regulations were among the key issues. Juliet Dennis reports from Alentejo, Portugal

More Aito suppliers raise rates to offset card charge

A further nine Aito suppliers have pledged to increase commission by 0.5% to help offset the cost of credit card charges for agents from the start of next year.

The revised EU Payment Services Directive 2, which prohibits retailers from charging for most consumer debit and credit cards, comes into force on January 13, 2018.

African Collection, Classic Collection Holidays, Abercrombie & Kent, Travel Gallery, Can Be Done, Bamboo Travel, Ioanian Holidays, 2by2 Holidays and McKinlay Kidd all told the Aito Overseas Conference they would implement the change.

They join Sunvil, Experience Travel Group and Prestige Holidays, all members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, which have already promised commission rises. Separately, Kuoni has also promised to raise commission.

In total, 13 operators have announced increases to agent commission. Abercrombie & Kent UK sales manager Rachel Healey said: “This is to support agents. It’s only fair we share the burden.”

Aito Specialist Travel Agents chairman Gemma Antrobus said: 
“A lot of agents will be relieved by this news. The 0.5% will not cover the card fees but it more than meets us halfway.”

Marco Polo Travel owner Polly Davies said: “It shows Aito operators value the business we give them.”

Out of Aito’s 116 operator members, 86 sell through the trade. Of those, 37 work proactively with agents by participating in the Aito All Stars booking incentive scheme.

Aito chairman Derek Moore said there was “definitely momentum” on the issue, with more likely to increase commission by January.

But executive director Kate Kenward stressed the increases were not an “Aito policy”. She said: “It’s up to operators what they do; everyone’s cost base is different.”

‘Industry faces hard and soft challenges in 2018’

Aito members need to be prepared for “hard” and “soft” challenges next year – and not stick their heads in the sand.

Chairman Derek Moore admitted some travel companies were not taking enough notice of new regulations covering credit card charges, data protection, package holidays and Atol.

He called these “hard” challenges that needed to be dealt with by members in the near future, as opposed to “soft” challenges such as overtourism that have no timeframe.

“It has to be said many in the travel industry have taken an ostrich approach,” he told delegates.

Consultation documents for the new package travel regulations, due into law on January 1 and taking effect by July 1, 2018, and Atol regulations, due into law on April 1 and taking effect on July 1, are expected before Christmas.

Abta director of financial protection John de Vial warned the tight schedule meant there could be little time for the trade to implement necessary changes.

He said: “There is normally a 12-week consultation and both consultations will hopefully run in parallel. But we may not get final Atol regulations until May 2018; that leaves us a 12-week implementation period, which is short and may be difficult.

“There could be a lot of systems changes to make if the Civil Aviation Authority changes the requirements for Atol Certificates. For example, the new PTD information requirements are more extensive generally.”

Changes in the PTD include a new type of regulated holiday, a Linked Travel Arrangement (LTA), which will offer less financial protection than a package but will carry the Atol logo. An LTA includes two or more travel services, but applies when the customer makes a single visit to a shop, call centre or website, and then pays for each service separately.

Vial warned there was a danger customers could be misled. “We want it made clear LTAs and full Atol-protected holidays are different and consumers do not think they are protected when they are not,” he said. This could mean producing an Atol Certificate in a different colour or under a different name, he suggested.

The key difference between an LTA and a Flight-Plus holiday is financial protection relates only to the LTA arranger and does not provide protection of the underlying services, for example the airline or hotel, if they fail.

Aito members urged to tap into ‘human connection’

Aito members are ceding ground to the sharing economy and internet travel companies, according to Experience Travel Group boss Sam Clark.

He told delegates: “We need to make the case that the sort of travel we can provide is different. We all have a breadth of experience that goes beyond what is in Google.”

He urged Aito companies to capitalise on their “human connection” – knowledge and experience – to find out why clients want to go away and to offer them trips that would not be offered online.

He added: “If we just ask people what they want, we will not add anything that an algorithm can’t do. It’s not just about fighting back against companies like Airbnb, it’s about Aito leading by example.”

Holidaymakers see value of bonded firms

The proportion of holidaymakers who rated booking with a fully bonded travel company as ‘important’ increased by 30 percentage points after the collapse of Monarch, according to a consumer survey.

The Aito Travel Insights Report 2017 polled 25,000 customers of 45 travel companies during September and October. The responses received in September, prior to Monarch’s collapse, were compared with those received in October, and showed a 30-point jump in those who said travelling with a fully bonded Aito company was the ‘most important factor’ when choosing which company to book with.

The report also found that 90% of holidaymakers would continue to travel or travel more over the next three years, almost the same as last year’s survey, despite Brexit, terrorism and Monarch’s collapse.

Firms warned: ‘No such thing as 100% protection’

Travel companies should use a combination of solutions to protect themselves from cybercrime, including staff training, antivirus software and ‘phrase passwords’, according to a cybersecurity expert.

Stephen Hall, managing consultant in governance, risk and compliance at Acuity Group, said there was “no such thing as 100% protection” against cyberattacks such as ransomware or phishing.

He said: “Cybersecurity is about a combination of solutions rather than a single fix. One of the biggest risks is people in the organisation and what they can cause accidentally or deliberately. In most cases it’s an accident – someone clicks on a link they shouldn’t and this results in a ransomware or phishing attack.”

Solutions include educating staff; keeping software up to date; having robust antivirus software; using techniques such as ‘sandboxing’, where emails are put into a ‘closed space’ and checked for a virus before they are passed on to inboxes; and making passwords harder to crack.
Hall suggested using phrases instead of words with different characters, such as ‘I_love_Dubai1’.