ARTA Canada Questions IATA Proposal to Accredit 'Sub-Agents'

A proposal being floated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to identify and accredit "sub-agents" (a term that, barring further clarity from IATA, is believed to include outside sales agents and hosted travel agencies) drew fire from Bruce Bishins, president of ARTA Canada, a sister unit of ARTA in the U.S. IATA represents a majority of the world's airlines.

Bishins said the issue was raised at the United Federation of Travel Agents’ Associations (UFTAA) 43rd World Congress in the Kathmandu, Nepal, last month. UFTAA is the global body of travel agency associations, the members of which represent 80 national travel agency associations.

“While the proposal is in an embryonic stage, the concerns are mounting quickly, particularly because IATA/BSP agencies are concerned as to who will be considered a sub-agent, why IATA should be allowed access to and identification of an agency's marketing partners, and the fees which will clearly be exacted if these entities are forced to register with IATA,” Bishins said. “In general terms, UFTAA members were exasperated by the escalating fees IATA continues to foist on the travel agency community to finance IATA itself. The message which was expressed loudly and clearly: 'Let the airlines pay for IATA; not travel agencies.' "

Members expressed concerns that IATA was already overly intrusive in the commercial affairs of travel agencies and that airlines would never allow third parties to interfere and mandate business rules over the activities of airlines, according to Bishins.

The four-day meeting addressed a wide array of issues which the worldwide agency community faces, including several matters which raised significant concerns, Bishins reports.

Additional initiatives proposed included possible collaboration between the UFTAA ID Card Program and the ARTA/ARTA Canada supported Travel Retailer Identification Program (TRIP), new tools and systems for booking and settlement including non-air services, and the potential of a global credit card processing facility to assist agencies in collecting service charges and professional fees, Bishins said.

On the administrative side, UFTAA agreed to formulate a three year plan to address the growing list of challenges the association must tackle, including delivering more services to its member national associations. The planning group includes representatives from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, and Canada (ARTA Canada) as well as former IATA Travel Agency Commissioner Brian Barrow, now head of Air Transport at UFTAA.

Key among these initiatives is an Executive Group to restructure and modernize the air transportation market place, thereby improving the direct relationship between airlines and travel agents. UFTAA members continue to assert that when agents and airlines enter into direct dialogue, without the interference of third parties, that much is accomplished and that relationships flourish. ARTA Canada is a member of the Executive Group, Bishins said.

"The new incoming board of UFTAA has its work cut out for it. ARTA Canada will do all possible to assure that the interests of Canadian travel agencies and that the North American landscape are key parts of UFTAA's ongoing strategies to strengthen the global travel agency market place," said Bishins.