CA TO’S fu­ture vi­sion

Travel Bulletin - - ISUES & TRENDS - Den­nis Bun­nik, chair­man Coun­cil of Aus­tralian Tour Op­er­a­tors

By Steve Jones

It’s not of­ten you hear a of a trade as­so­ci­a­tion vo­cally dis­cour­ag­ing mem­ber­ship growth. But on tak­ing the reins at the Coun­cil of Aus­tralian Tour Op­er­a­tors a lit­tle un­der 18 months ago, Den­nis Bun­nik did just that. “If you’re a mem­ber of an in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion, that as­so­ci­a­tion has to pro­vide value. If it doesn’t there is re­ally no pur­pose to it,” he ob­served, be­fore voic­ing his un­con­ven­tional views on re­cruit­ment. “I said to tour op­er­a­tors who were not mem­bers of CATO that I did not want you to join un­til we give you a rea­son to join.” For years, CATO had op­er­ated in the man­ner of a so­cial club where in­dus­try play­ers gath­ered for a beer and an in­for­mal nat­ter. Con­vivial as it was, and it cer­tainly wasn’t with­out merit, it lacked a mean­ing­ful vi­sion or clear agenda. To­gether with the com­mit­tee and CATO’S stal­wart gen­eral man­ager Peter Baily, Bun­nik set out to ad­dress those is­sues and drew up a three year strate­gic plan to bring pro­fes­sion­al­ism and a sense of pur­pose to the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Now en­ter­ing its se­cond year, Bun­nik told trav­el­bul­letin the plan was be­gin­ning to take ef­fect, but stressed it re­mained a “work in progress”. “Those com­ments about not join­ing be­fore we gave them a rea­son were made just af­ter I be­came chair­man and we were still go­ing through the strate­gic plan­ning process,” Bun­nik told trav­el­bul­letin. “Once we launched the new strate­gic plan it was im­por­tant that we demon­strate our com­mit­ment to im­ple­ment­ing it rather than start­ing with a re­cruit­ment drive. “Our fo­cus has there­fore been on pro­vid­ing value to ex­ist­ing mem­bers rather than cre­at­ing re­cruit­ment col­lat­eral.” The most re­cent ini­tia­tive de­signed to pro­vide value has seen the long over­due de­vel­op­ment of a new web­site. Hardly ground­break­ing in an in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated dig­i­tal age, you may think. But it rep­re­sented a ma­jor step for­ward for CATO. The site will de­liver de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on each mem­ber, pro­vid­ing agents with a prod­uct ref­er­ence point for the first time, and giv­ing op­er­a­tors greater ex­po­sure to their ar­eas of prod­uct spe­cial­ity. “We want to move closer to the re­tail travel net­work and that in­volves pro­vid­ing easy ac­cess for agents to CATO mem­bers and giv­ing mem­bers the abil­ity to pro­mote their prod­uct to the re­tail net­works,” Bun­nik said. “The web­site is the big­gest de­vel­op­ment in that re­spect. Un­til now, there has not been a sin­gle source of knowl­edge, or data­base that con­sul­tants can re­fer to.” So if forg­ing closer links with con­sul­tants is a key am­bi­tion, why not cre­ate a new class of mem­ber­ship within CATO for agents in the same way it has done for tourism bod­ies? Fur­ther­more, is there an ar­gu­ment to sug­gest CATO could repli­cate the UK’S As­so­ci­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Tour Op­er­a­tors (AITO) and es­tab­lish a net­work of agents who spe­cialise in sell­ing CATO prod­uct? In AITO’S case, it de­vel­oped AITO Spe­cial­ist Travel Agents, with turnover now ap­proach­ing £60m (A$97m). Bun­nik dis­missed any prospect of cre­at­ing a par­al­lel agency net­work in the AITO mould, ar­gu­ing the struc­ture of the market in Aus­tralia does not lend it­self to such a model. AITO and its agency arm were de­signed to com­bat the dom­i­nance of the ver­ti­cally in­te­grated giants – orig­i­nally Thom­son, Air­tours, First Choice and Thomas Cook be­fore they con­sol­i­dated to two su­per­heavy­weights in Tui and Thomas Cook - which con­trolled dis­tri­bu­tion and pre­vented in­de­pen­dent whole­salers and op­er­a­tors from get­ting a look in. Flight Cen­tre aside, Aus­tralia’s net­works and fran­chises are largely a col­lec­tion of in­de­pen­dent agents which CATO mem­bers have open ac­cess to, Bun­nik said. “The re­tail con­sor­tiums ne­go­ti­ate pre­ferred sup­plier deals with tour op­er­a­tors but as their travel agency mem­bers are in­de­pen­dently owned they have the free­dom to deal di­rectly with non-pre­ferred tour op­er­a­tors in line with their in­di­vid­ual cus­tomer needs,” Bun­nik said. “It would po­ten­tially help a very small num­ber of CATO mem­bers [if we cre­ated an agency arm] but it would du­pli­cate what is al­ready in place.” The po­ten­tial for invit­ing se­lect travel agents to be­come af­fil­i­ate mem­bers of CATO was more of a pos­si­bil­ity, he sug­gested, but far from a pri­or­ity. “It’s prob­a­bly some­thing we could have a closer look at.” Along with the newly-launched web­site, two other ob­jec­tives of CATO’S strate­gic blue­print have been to ed­u­cate mem­bers and to “en­gage” them. While guest speak­ers have ad­dressed CATO meet­ings on spe­cific is­sues in the past, more struc­tured fo­rums are now tak­ing place, and open for travel agents to at­tend. The first, on cri­sis man­age­ment, was held ear­lier this year with a fo­cus on le­gal ser­vices

We need to iden­tify what the broader is­sues are for our mem­bers, where the com­mon links are and how as an as­so­ci­a­tion we things’ can help fix those

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