To the surprise and disappointment of many of its travel agent members, The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) announced on Friday that online travel agency Webjet had joined the industry body as a member and become ATAS accredited.
Irrespective of where successful online travel agency Webjet may sit in its business model and service offering compared to that of the majority of AFTA’s long-time travel agency members, the publicly listed company’s attacks on bricks and mortar agents in recent years has been legendary.
From Webjet’s ‘Make your way in the world‘ TV ad in 2016 to the equally cringeworthy follow up ‘Never out of date’, here at Karryon, the brand been a constant topic of discussion and outrage for our travel agent readership who have for years vehemently gone against everything Webjet stands for.
And for a good reason. Webjet’s negative comparisons of bricks and mortar travel agents in these two ads, in particular, seemed an unnecessary and cheap shot.
Webjet: ‘Make your own way in the world’
This video has had 2,734,444 views to date and is still live (although unlisted so not searchable) on the company’s Youtube page.
Followed by ‘Never out of date’
This video has been watched 2,281,579 times to date and is also still live on their YouTube page.
It was these ads and the subsequent AFTA membership backlash in 2016 that led to former AFTA CEO Jayson Westbury vocally fighting the good fight for the members he represented in response.
At the time, AFTA complained to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) saying that the ‘make your own way in the world’ commercial provided an incorrect and misleading representation of the services offered by webjet.com.au comparative to those of a travel agent.
In an article in The Australian on January 25, 2016, Mr Westbury had said: “This results in consumers being potentially misled to believe that webjet.com.au has access to more airfares and services than travel agents.”
In response at the time, Webjet managing director John Guscic had said: “AFTA’s position on our current television commercial is just another one of many examples of prejudice against us and the online travel agency community.”
Since then, the years and resentment have bubbled away, and agents have made videos like this one in response.
Given all of the above then, it was a huge surprise when the news came through on Friday that Webjet had been accepted by AFTA as a member and became ATAS accredited in the process.
Speaking about the announcement, newly appointed AFTA CEO Darren Rudd said:
“As a significant local and global player, Webjet is an important addition to the AFTA and ATAS community.”
“Webjet is an influential and significant player in our sector and we welcome them as an AFTA member and ATAS-accredited agent at a time when industry unity and combined voice is more important than it has ever been.”
Darren Rudd, AFTA CEO
Meanwhile, Shelley Beasley, Group Chief Commercial Officer of Webjet Limited, also spoke of unifying the industry in its most significant time of need.
“Webjet is delighted to be joining AFTA at such a critical time for our industry and are keen to play a role in addressing the major issues that exist in the rapidly evolving travel landscape.”
“Now more than ever we need to work together in determining a roadmap through the minefield that COVID-19 has created.”
Shelley Beasley, Group Chief Commercial Officer of Webjet Limited
The news, however, was not so well received by agents and long-time AFTA members, with a large number highlighting their disappointment and anger on our closed Together In Travel Facebook group.
With comments ranging from “How do they justify a business that uses an international call centre with staff who have no GDS training?” to “the fact that they bagged travel agents in their advertising says it all – can’t comprehend this decision at all”, the news shocked many.
One of the few positive quotes from an agent said: “to me, the ad was a form of flattery for the professional travel consultant. Did you lose any of your customers to Webjet? No. Did you find yourself having to clean up the mess left by an attempted Webjet booking? Yes. Welcome them back into the flock, where AFTA can at least try and control their enthusiasm to criticise the competition.”
Regardless of opinion, the fact is that Webjet and the very travel agents it has fought against in the last few years are now all huddled under the same AFTA roof and accreditation, with essentially the same challenges.
In light of the COVID-world, we all find ourselves in, AFTA CEO Darren Rudd’s plea for members to welcome Webjet “at a time when industry unity and combined voice is more important than it has ever been,” appears a bold but needed one.
Perhaps for Webjet though, a good starting point and an olive branch to start anew could be to take down the two YouTube videos above?
AFTA also announced today that it is taking the unprecedented step of reducing its operating hours.
Effective from September 1, AFTA will only operate Monday to Wednesday each week from 9 am to 5 pm, with CEO Darren Rudd saying “this decision, while tough, is the right one. During this time of reduced operations, we ask for members’ patience as we navigate the high volume of member queries.”
What do you think of the news? Email us at [email protected] with your thoughts.
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