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CATO to launch own accreditation and consumer protection program as part of major reform

In what is a significant step forward for the travel industry, The Council of Australia Tour Operators (CATO) has announced plans to launch its own accreditation program for members designed specifically for the land supply sector. The organisation will also strive to provide insolvency protection for bookings made through accredited CATO members.

In what is a significant step forward for the travel industry, The Council of Australia Tour Operators (CATO) has announced plans to launch its own accreditation program for members designed specifically for the land supply sector. The organisation will also strive to provide insolvency protection for bookings made through accredited CATO members.

Make no mistake. This is a milestone moment in the post-pandemic reset of the Australian travel industry.

CATO’s proactive and desperately-needed initiatives form the foundation of its organisational reform and what the member-driven organisation says is, “The exploration of new directions to support its affiliates as part of a more sustainable travel industry.”

The prominent news comes off the back of CATO’s 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM) held on Thursday, 24 June, where the universal goal of “Providing greater consumer confidence which will significantly boost the Australian travel industry” was unanimously supported by its members.

How will CATO’s Accreditation Scheme work?

Nepal, Annapurna Basecamp
Nepal, Annapurna Basecamp with CATO member Intrepid Travel

CATO says that Its corporate restructure and the COVID crisis has resulted in the need to “proceed with Its own accreditation scheme to provide greater comfort levels for members and the travel agency community in dealing with CATO members.”

Since industry deregulation in 2014, CATO has outsourced Its accreditation to the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) via the contentious AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS).

In 2019 the board undertook a strategic review of CATO and identified the need for Its own accreditation system fit for purpose for the land supply sector. At the time, a white label CATO version of ATAS was discussed but rejected by AFTA.

CATO says COVID-19 has further highlighted the unique nature of the land supply sector withholding client travel credits with overseas suppliers and the need for a sector-specific accreditation system.

As such, a CATO accreditation system will be set up using an independent external professional firm to conduct the annual financial accreditation process (no CATO employees or Board members would have visibility of member commercially sensitive information).

CATO says that Its own accreditation scheme, externally validated, will deliver a fit-for-purpose program providing retail agents with greater comfort in dealing with CATO members.

Accreditation system fees will be structured to ensure the financial support of members at this critical time, and the board will now work with stakeholders to ensure the CATO accreditation system is set up and launched as quickly as possible.

The organisation will also work closely with retail consortiums to fully understand the new system and equivalency with other systems for contracting purposes.

Brett Jardine, Managing Director CATO, says, “The creation of an accreditation scheme specifically designed for the land supply sector of the industry is the first step in CATO’s journey to help the industry build back better and stronger as we recover from the COVID crisis.”  

CATO Consumer Protection

Brett Jardine ABC
Brett Jardine, CATO General Manager

The pandemic has intensified calls by consumers and consumer advocacy groups for re-regulation of the industry and establishing a consumer protection scheme.

CATO says it does not support industry re-regulation by the government and is instead now working with a major global insurance broker to investigate and, if appropriate, develop insolvency protection insurance for consumers.

“The second step, creating consumer insolvency protection for all bookings through accredited CATO members, will transform our industry. Whilst it is early days, there has never been a better time, nor more will, to make this happen. If successful, the impact will be transformative. It will boost consumer confidence and eliminate risks to travel agents of supplier collapse when booking with accredited CATO members.” – Brett Jardine, Managing Director CATO.

The ultimate end goal is to provide insolvency protection for all consumer bookings made through accredited CATO members, thereby providing greater consumer confidence which will significantly boost the Australian travel industry.

CATO says its proposed changes will engage with and encourage wider participation from all tour operators and wholesalers nationally to seek best practice and greater consistency across all participants.

The organisation will continue to collaborate closely with other industry bodies, including AFTA, CLIA, ATEC and ACCI, in areas of mutual benefit.