Four new accreditation criteria have been set by the International Association of Airlines (IATA) to give travel agents the right to sell tickets on behalf of airlines. They would be unfavorable to Tunisian agencies. Mohamed Tahar Saihi, President of the Tunisian Federation of Travel Agencies and Tourism (FTAV) reviews the situation in an interview with African Manager.
Can you explain the situation of Tunisian travel agencies following the decision of IATA?
Above all, we must explain the approach of travel agencies to ticket sales. Indeed, agencies sell tickets on behalf of airlines. These agencies have a stock of tickets which they will sell on behalf of airlines. However, they have to give guarantees in the form of deposits for these companies. We arrive at today’s date with the freedom of the sky and fierce competition, and regulation of IATA which has evolved and even changed. Indeed, IATA, through PACJA, aggregates and regulates the air in Tunisia. Its members are national airline Tunisair, other foreign companies operating in Tunisia and FTAV members. It aims at monitoring market developments.
The question that arises is how we got to this situation. Before IATA called for new measures, some travel agencies used not to pay the deposit rate.
The deposit for certain travel agents is equal to 0, equivalent to 20 thousand dinars. For more new airlines, IATA has proclaimed significant deposits that can reach 50 thousand dinars. At this level, the latter depend on oldest airlines to have their tickets. As a federation, we have made efforts to preserve the interests of our members. We found a solution which is to block money in an account, and the Tourism Board no longer claims that deposit. We replaced the bank and the Tourism Board is the re-insurer.
We thought of a comprehensive deposit including all the elements, as demand continues to evolve vis-à-vis the IATA. We started work on this process.
We’re about to find a solution. But now that IATA has called for new measures I do not know why. Even our experts have not given a reason for that.
Why IATA has taken these measures?
Surely, they have a reason for this decision. In my opinion, I think it came in accordance with local criteria defined by PACJA.
How FTAV will react?
We will try to understand the situation, and especially delay implementation of these new measures by providing documentary evidences to our members. Please note that we are ready to study the circumstances and find a solution that provides the necessary guarantee, which covers the travel agency with the lowest cost.
On the other hand, this decision comes as the FTAV is studying the realization of a guarantee insurance and risk cover for IATA. Since the amount fixed for some travel agencies is unbearable, we are negotiating with stakeholders, namely Tunisair, to remedy the situation. We are preparing our insurance in order to fix a deposit accepted by IATA. We have reactivated the issue, we gathered the re-insurers to develop specifications relating to insurance. Note that the foreign re-insurer is already appointed by IATA. Once this action is resolved, we will sign the agreement with IATA.
Can we see in this new measure a way to pressure Tunisian travel agencies?
These measures are not applied solely to travel agencies in Tunisia. Moroccans have already had the same problem. IATA is trying to change its rules of play these new measures are not aimed solely at Tunisia. It is a general phenomenon.
What is the reaction of agencies?
This decision has aroused much concern. We reacted quickly to protect the interests of our members.
Is there any strategy to cope with it?
Efforts should be stepped up, taking into account the requirements of IATA; proposals have been put in place. We negotiate with them. We discuss with re-insurers about the rate of deposit. Is it 1 dinar per ticket, 1% of the ticket or 0.5% to satisfy customers?
We defend travel agencies, but still our goal is to satisfy our customers.
Can you give us an overview of the agencies’ activity report for 2010?
Above all, we must distinguish between two types of agencies. There is license A that includes manufacturers, wholesalers or receptive sides that it to say those which receive customers. The second license is named B; this is the bank of the plane ticket, bank of the product manufactured by license A. It is the reseller. In general, one can conclude that 2010 was a year of recovery. For license A, this corresponds to the recovery in some markets (French, German) and the same case for license B.
Our goal is to promote the image of agencies. It is no longer an intermediary. Our vision is to make agency consultants which can help the customers. This approach rests on two axes including local tourism through booking stations, which requires from customers who will book a hotel in good conditions to do it through the travel agency.
How do you see tourism in the years to come?
We must draw lessons and conclusions of years of tourism activity, explore best ways to showcase progress made and overcome shortcomings and problems, to give the sector a new quality guarantee that will enhance its ability to meet challenges.