01.CHOICE takes on new consumer travel project
Following the deregulation of travel agents, CHOICE has reached agreement with state and territory governments for a new Consumer Travel Hub project.
The project will provide a mix of research, tailored information, education campaigns and advocacy to significantly improve the experience of Australian consumers in the travel market. With a planned launch date of late 2014, the hub will identify issues with travel providers, products and services, and bring these issues to the attention of governments, regulators and industry.
CHOICE reached agreement with state and territory ministers in July, with the project to receive funding of $2.8m over four-and-a-half years, provided from the now-defunct Travel Compensation Fund. This matches the funding already provided to the Australian Federation of Travel Agents to set up a voluntary self-accreditation scheme from 1 July 2014. Funding has also been provided to state and territory governments to raise awareness about the changes to the travel industry.
Key features of the CHOICE proposal are:
- Ensuring there is a strong consumer voice in the Australian travel market, identifying emerging consumer issues, and advocating for solutions.
- Publishing and promoting independent advice for Australian travellers on their consumer rights and protections, including common issues around travel agents and other providers.
- Providing unbiased reviews and how-to guides for navigating consumer travel products and services, including travel insurance.
Deregulation of travel agents
CHOICE was one of several groups invited by the nation’s consumer affairs ministers to apply for funding to establish a consumer voice in the travel industry. This followed the decision of ministers to abolish the Travel Compensation Fund, which since 1987 was part of licensing arrangements for Australian-based travel agents. The fund also paid more than $60 million in compensation to consumers left high and dry when agents went bust, such as when a Sydney-based cruise company went into administration in 2012.
While we recognise the travel industry is evolving, CHOICE advocated for reforming the fund rather than abolishing it. We also argued that if the fund were abolished, dedicated resources should be provided for consumer protection.
When ministers decided to abolish the fund anyway, and to provide funding to the travel industry to set up a voluntary self-accreditation scheme, we argued that comparable amount should be provided to help consumers.