Porto in the north of Portugal was the location for this year’s Irish Travel Agents Association annual conference. The venue was the Hotel Solverde Spa and Wellness Centre, the only 5-star hotel on the beach in the north of the country. More than 120 industry professionals attended and heard from a range of speakers addressing the challenges facing the travel trade.
ABTA also chose Portugal for its conference, meeting in the Azores.
Cormac Meehan, President of the ITAA, opened the conference, commenting: “Every day brings new social, political, environmental challenges for Irish travel agents. Our strength lies in our capacity to recognise and confront these challenges.”
Filipe Silva, Board Member of the Portuguese National Tourist Office, spoke on the similarity between Portugal and Ireland: “It is an honour to host the 2017 ITAA Conference in Porto. This conference is a fantastic opportunity for us to meet with the Irish travel trade and strengthen our relationships with travel agents throughout Ireland, who play an important role in the promotion and distribution of Portugal’s travel products.”
He noted that this July saw a 50% increase in Irish visitors to Portugal over the same month last year. He regretted that Aer Lingus changed its decision to operate flights from Dublin to Porto and hoped that this matter could be re-visited in the near future.
The opening session dealt with Air Matters New Gen ISS and NDC-New Distribution Capability and was moderated by Valerie Metcalfe from FCm Tavel Solutions, who said: “NDC is close now and is already having an impact, but be aware that NDC is not a GDS.”
New Distribution Capability (NDC) was discussed with Svend Leirvaag from Amadeus, who said: “With just three global airline alliances controlling 60% of global traffic, industry standards are being set by a minority.” He recommended that agents start making demands and enquiries to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) so that the NDC is not ‘aviation-centric’. He also told the conference that a complaint has been lodged against Lufthansa and now British Airways and Iberia are trying to add a similar monetary charge.
While Michel de Blust reassured ITAA members that ECTAA is lobbying the IATA to see what is acceptable under New Gen ISS and to ensure that all travel agents, through ITAA, are aware of all suggested changes.
The ITAA’s Legal Advisor, Anne Dolan, chaired the session on ‘Regulatory Matters’ with Andrew McCarroll from AIB Merchant Services and Brian O’Mara of O’Leary’s Insurances Ltd. Anne gave an update on the Payment Services Directive and the Package Travel Directive, while Andrew McCarroll, who heads up AIB’s PCI Department, informed delegates on PCI, which is a requirement of all IATA licensed agents by 1st March 2018. Brian O’Mara of O’Leary’s Insurances Ltd spoke on General Data Protection Regulations and the threat of cyber attacks and the consequences thereafter. Key (GDPR) changes come into effect on 25th May 2018.
The most important session of the conference focused on the reform of the Traveller Protection Fund with Cathy Mannion, Commissioner for Aviation Regulation, as she discussed the various options around the reform of the fund, referencing the recent collapses of Lowcostholidays and Failte Holidays. Cathy Mannion is the first Commissioner ever to attend the ITAA conference.
The ITAA has repeatedly called on the Government to review the legislation around bonding among travel providers in Ireland. Following the collapse of Lowcostholidays last summer, almost 4,200 Irish customers made claims to the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) amounting to €3.8 million. These claims depleted the Travellers’ Protection Fund, which is made up of contributions from tour operators and administered by the commission, by 75% as Lowcostholidays’ bonding level was under-provided for.
The Commissioner spoke on a number of options for reform before engaging in a panel discussion on the Travellers’ Protection Fund with Angela Walsh, CTM; Paul Hackett, Click&Go; and Pat Dawson, ITAA Chief Executive; moderated by Eoghan Corry. During this discussion the Commissioner informed delegates that the Lowcostholidays collapse is still under review and ITAA will be updated once CAR receives clarity on the matter. When questioned on what changes she had made since the collapse, the Commissioner said CAR had reviewed its “financial monitoring processes, internal processes and application processes to review the burden on travel agents while still being able to stand over licenses”.
It also emerged during the discussion that more than 80% of Irish holidaymakers going abroad are not covered by the Travel Protection Act.
The well-planned social programme culminated with a Gala Dinner at Casa Ferreira in its wine cellars in Porto.
ITAA President Cormac Meehan, speaking at the dinner, said that the cellars dated from 1751 and pointed out that more that 300,000 Irish tourists visit Portugal every year. “The past 12 months have seen a growth of over 50% in passenger numbers and nearly 60% in terms of bed nights to the Porto and Northern Region alone.
“Some 20% of Irish adults holiday in Portugal and sunshine, value for money and the local people are the main drivers. Add to that the diversity of the product alone, in this small area we have culture, gastronomy, water sports, golf and many more pursuits available.”
The President also made presentations to the speakers, who had contributed to the success of the conference.