The latest TTG Industry Leaders Forum sponsored by Travelport took place at London’s Como Metropolitan Hotel last month. Attendees discussed PTR, GDPR, Heathrow and credit card fees. Gary Noakes reports.
We are only halfway through 2018 but already the industry has encountered changes to the Package Travel Regulations (PTR), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a ban on credit card fees and – more positively perhaps – Heathrow expansion has been approved by the government.
With all this in mind, it was an appropriate time for TTG to hold another Industry Leaders Forum.
TTG Media group editor Pippa Jacks kicked off the session by gauging feelings about the PTR update. The panel gave broad approval but also urged caution, particularly for agents.
Paul Lacey, UK head of trade sales, Voyages SNCF, said: “It is welcome because the landscape has changed so much over the last 20 years, but the rules are open to interpretation, and that is only normally tested in the courts when things go wrong.”
The changes place more consumer protection responsibility on agents, which means consortia have a bigger role to play. Holidaysplease director Richard Dixon said: “The agents that will be really worried and scared are those that are not in consortia, so from a consortia point of view it’s a great opportunity.”
Global Travel Group managing director Andy Stark said: “In terms of behaviour, an agent – and probably a tour operator – has to change the way they sell a holiday. You still have Atol but we have replaced the Flight Plus model; anything without air may be a package or defined as a package in a court’s eyes.”
Travel Network Group chief executive Gary Lewis said the industry was currently “massively confused”. “The big impact is Flight Plus,” he agreed.
Advantage Travel Partnership head of commercial John Sullivan said public awareness needed to be raised. “I don’t think the consumer has any idea PTR changed on Sunday [July 1],” he said. “If we’ve spent years working on legislation, I think the consumer should know about it.”
The issue of ensuring consumers understand how they are protected was a big hurdle, Sullivan said, adding: “You need to run through what they are booking – even a normal retailer and a normal package. You have to go through that process of confirmation. It’s all stuff that is slowing [retailers] down and taking them away from their day job.
“They still don’t understand it and we don’t understand it – none of it has been tested.”
Saga managing director Maria Whiteman agreed the effect on phone bookings could be particularly noticeable. “It absolutely could add a lot of time on to a call. It’s just not viable – the customer won’t stay on the line. We’re proposing changing the script and referring them to our website,” she said.
Everyone agreed that final interpretations of PTR would come only when a court case is brought.
One effect could be to push agents away from dynamic packaging towards Atol partner companies.
Lynn Narraway, managing director, Holland America Line and Seabourn, said: “It will be interesting to see if more buy a package from us instead of doing it themselves.”
Narraway agreed that under agents’ new responsibilities for client welfare, a scenario in which an agent became responsible for getting a passenger from one country to another to catch a cruise “was going to happen one day”.
From the airline side, Air Europa UK and Ireland director Colin Stewart said the effect had been minimal.
“From an airline perspective, it’s a bit like Scotland and the World Cup – there’s a big event going on and we’re not there. We feel there’s no real change at the moment,” he said.
But Stewart said [flight compensation regulation] EU 261 had only been fully understood once courts had set precedents.
“We have to be flexible when we say this [right now] is a picture of the industry; I don’t think there is ever a time when you can say that,” he said.
On GDPR, Whiteman said it had had some positive impacts, adding: “Saga was built on a huge database. The good thing [about GDPR] is that it has meant a really good clear-out of the database. The conversion
rates should be better and it has freed up marketing budget.”
Travelport UK and Ireland managing director Paul Broughton added that GDPR had meant “a bit more for us than just a change to terms and conditions”. “We had to ensure every single customer was on a GDPR-compliant version of our technology,” he said. “There were all sorts of rumours about Iata withdrawing licences if you were not GDPR-compliant by June, but I have not heard of anything taking place.”
Holidaysplease’s Dixon warned there was more to be done, though.
“The second part is about security of people’s data, and I don’t think people have taken that seriously,” he said. “We have 80-odd homeworkers and we have to take responsibility for what’s on their computers at home. I doubt many companies have taken that onboard.”
Credit card charges also came under scrutiny, with Lewis calling for post-Brexit lobbying of government, highlighting how the ban on charges was “unfair uniquely” to travel agents.
Dixon said lobbying on the issue had been inadequate. “From an Abta perspective it was shocking that it was allowed to pass. Their reaction was a reaction,” he added.
Stark said banks had “just refused to give us time” on the issue and added the changes meant “even worse, it encourages people to use credit cards more”.
“I don’t think the consumer has any idea PTR changed on Sunday. If we’ve spent years working on legislation, I think the consumer should know that”
John Sullivan, Advantage Travel Partnership
The panel also addressed Heathrow’s expansion. Stewart predicted there would be no construction frenzy, despite parliamentary approval. “My gut feeling is that even with support to push it through, we’re looking at 2028-30 for it to be up and running,” he said. However, the question of who pays for the third runway remained, he added: “The challenge is meeting the needs of the customer airline as well as the customer passenger.”
The panel agreed that the market was generally good, with Whiteman saying trade sales were “really buoyant”, but Sullivan added: “It is difficult to know whether it could have been even [better] without these upheavals.”
Paul Broughton, managing director, UK & Ireland, Travelport
Richard Dixon, director, Holidaysplease
Pippa Jacks, group editor, TTG Media
Paul Lacey, UK head of trade sales, Voyages SNCF
Gary Lewis, chief executive, The Travel Network Group
Lynn Narraway, managing director, Holland America Line and Seabourn
Daniel Pearce, managing director, TTG Media
Matt Roclawski, sales and marketing director, TTG Media
Andy Stark, managing director, Global Travel Group
Colin Stewart, director UK & Ireland, Air Europa; chairman of Foreign Airlines Association; chairman of Latin American Travel Association
John Sullivan, head of commercial, Advantage Travel Partnership
Maria Whiteman, managing director, Saga Holidays