Though Cedarberg Africa has been an Aito operator since 1997, I only volunteered to join the Aito council in 2012.
The ash cloud of 2010 had given us a wake-up call about the extent of our responsibility to clients in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Consumer confidence in the wake of the credit crunch seemed fragile, plus there was uncertainty over Grexit (a Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone) and the Arab Spring.
Self-interestedly, I resolved to get a lot closer to fellow specialist operators facing the same challenges – so I joined the industry issues team.
This marvellous catch-all label accurately reflects the broad scope of the injustices, irritations, threats and opportunities specialist operators and agents continuously bump up against.
Some are a long hard slog, such as lobbying for consumer financial protection that is fit for purpose, while others initially seem daunting, but prove less troublesome when you unpick them – for example, preparing for GDPR or making tax digital.
It sounds cliche, but my seven years on Aito’s council have flown by, and now it’s time to step down. It’s been an interesting mixture of hard work, camaraderie, heated debate and frequent consensus.
Although I will be glad to channel the time I regain into my own business, I would highly recommend others stand for the Aito council or agents panel.
I hope I have brought useful insights from the perspective of a small specialist tour operator; and in return, I have been informed and enriched by other council members’ experience and judgement.
While several themes have cropped up repeatedly in council meetings, others have emerged over time. Evergreen topics include dealing fairly with clients, both when things go wrong and when they don’t. The bank of knowledge and experience within the council is extremely useful, although each example is unique.
We rarely have a council meeting without mentioning Atol or the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) and all the acronyms involved as well.
As I step down from the council, the CAA has just replaced flight plus with linked travel arrangements – so long a wait for so little.
It’s easy to feel jaded and disappointed that we still have to forecast, report and bond separately for flight inclusive and land-only holidays; one protection scheme for both would be much better understood by all.
Yet there are victories where Aito’s lobbying played a significant part. Aito fought tirelessly to get show organisers and travel portals to accept their legal responsibility for third country traders meeting the PTRs, for example.
Recently, Birdfair capitulated, meaning a level playing field for those who play by the rules. Now all travel companies at Birdfair must prove they fulfil the PTRs.
Onwards and upwards, team Aito!
Ginny Russell is co-founder of Aito member Cedarberg Africa