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“Standing Together Is Better Than Standing Alone’’: Dennis Bunnik, CATO

Since the impact of COVID-19 was first felt in travel, CATO Chair Dennis Bunnik has been a prominent voice in rallying the industry to discuss the change needed out of the other side. Now the industry needs your help. Will you get involved and share your ideas to help shape a better future?

Since the impact of COVID-19 was first felt in travel, CATO Chair Dennis Bunnik has been a prominent voice in rallying the industry to discuss the change needed out of the other side. Now the industry needs your help. Will you get involved and share your ideas to help shape a better future?

COVID-19 has tested our resilience on a personal, company and industry level to the absolute extremes.

The silver lining is that many of us are now working on re-modelling our own business systems and processes so we come out stronger. At an industry association level, the same is happening.

For example, both AFTA and CATO are developing best practice standardised booking terms and conditions for their members which aim to provide greater transparency for businesses and customers alike.

CLIA has just revamped its training programs and released these to all travel agents.

However, I think this is an opportunity go further. Rather than working purely on our own businesses or within our own sectors here is an opportunity to think more broadly.

Let’s see if we can initiate some reforms that ensure our entire industry comes out of COVID stronger, more sustainable and offering a better customer experience.

But first we need to learn to work together.

CATO Refunds Credits
Dennis Bunnik, CATO

During my 28 years working in travel, I have been involved with inbound, retail, hotels and tour operating. I haven’t worked for an airline, but my mother worked for four of them and I worked for Qantas Holidays for a couple of years in the ’90s.

What’s struck me during all this time is how siloed this industry is, with each sector having a love/hate relationship with the others. 

While it’s natural for us all to look after our own interests I think that we have been given a real opportunity to break down some of these silos.

What I am calling for today is a concerted, unified effort to genuinely reform our industry.  To make it better for all, including and especially, our clients. 

Neither CATO nor I have the answers. We don’t even have all the questions.  We are not seeking to push a specific agenda but instead we’re offering to be part of a long-term solution.

The first step is to collect and collate some ideas which will be shared with our colleagues at CLIA, AFTA, ATEC and the airlines. We will then get to work with our members, and the other industry bodies where appropriate, to see if we can come out of this crisis as a better stronger and more united industry than we went in.

So, let’s start making a list of things that need addressing.

The guidelines are simple:

  • Suggestions should improve the industry overall.  We are looking for better outcomes for clients and preferably multiple sectors – we are not looking for ways to move more money from airlines to travel agents.
  • Keep suggestions constructive.
  • Think broadly, think long term – will it help improve the long-term sustainability of our industry?
  • If you don’t want your name published that’s fine – just let us know and you can remain anonymous.
  • Email your suggestions in confidence to [email protected]

To get you thinking here are some things I’ve got on my list:

A co-ordinated multi-sector consumer PR strategy

The real estate sector does it better than anyone – not a week goes by where there is not a good news story about this being the best time to buy or sell a house.

Outbound travel needs a united voice and active professional PR strategy to manage the industry’s image with the public. Each association and industry business would then feed into that overarching message and strategy.

Relying on individual businesses or associations has not worked for us.

Booking Terms and Conditions

The home construction and real estate industries are examples where standard T&Cs apply and work well. We need the same at both travel agency level as well as with tour operators and wholesalers as stated above.

We then need to find a way to make them as clear and transparent as possible to clients so that everybody is protected and knows where they stand.

Let’s never go through what we’ve just been through again!

Cancellation Fees

I believe that they have been too high and as a result, travel insurance policies keep adding exclusions. Reform is needed to see how we can reduce costs and improve insurance cover.

Travel Insurance

The availability of adequate travel insurance is vital to rebuilding travel confidence post-COVID. Reform in this area is directly related to my comments on cancellation fees and T&Cs – let’s make the system better for all.

We will also contact like-minded industry associations overseas to see what we can learn from their experiences.

COVID-19 has been a nightmare for all of us. Let’s not waste the opportunity to create something positive and come out of this stronger and better than ever.

Email your suggestions in confidence to [email protected]

READ: What’s The Deal With Travel Refunds And Credits? Dennis Bunnik Shares The Answers