The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) today responded to a Nov. 15 press release issued by the Airlines Reporting Corp. (ARC) in an open letter to ARC President David Collins and called for ARC to provide immediately, among other things, å“data that shows the exact extent and nature of the fraudulent voiding alleged to be the justification for the changes in voiding rules.å”
“ASTA opposes any action on the part of the airlines that dictates to travel agents how they will be able to perform their jobs,” said ASTA President and CEO Richard M. Copland, CTC. “ASTA is willing to enter into discussions with ARC to ensure that travel agent interests are protected, but we refuse to simply accept changes that solely benefit the airlines at the expense of our members. My question is, does ARC want a dialogue, or a monologue?”
Below is ASTA’s letter to Collins:
November 20, 2002 / Mr. David Collins / Airlines Reporting Corporation / 4100 N. Fairfax Drive / Suite 600 Arlington, / VA 22203-1629
I write regarding the November 15 ARC press release announcing what was described as a “consultative dialog with travel agents focused on identifying and implementing business process improvements necessary to maintain the continued viability and integrity of the ARC system.”
The language of the release and a realistic view of its true meaning suggest that the real purpose is to improve things for airlines at the expense of travel agents. And the consultation is in fact only about how and, perhaps, when to make these changes, not about whether the changes are justified by anything other than exercise of airline market power over travel agents and their clients.
The changes to ticket voiding deadlines are represented to be a solution to abuses constituting fraud on the carriers. ASTA is as concerned with fraud as anyone. The reputation of the travel agency industry, and supplier attitudes toward it, are at stake whenever an agent perpetrates a fraud on the airlines. On the other hand, there is no justification for presuming that most agencies will take advantage of the system to commit fraud. Remedies that damage the businesses of everyone should not be imposed because of the actions of a few, especially where such actions can readily be detected and punished.
Before we have a “consultative dialogue” about “shortening the time available for voiding transactions,” there should be a demonstration that shortening that time for every agency is appropriate as a remedy for the actions of a few. Absent such a demonstration, the dialogue will be merely a monologue, and changing the rules on that basis will not be supported or acceptable.
Similarly, with respect to the apparent plan to require daily transmission of sales data from agencies to ARC, the financial crisis is a serious concern to everyone involved in the travel industry. But the airlines are not alone in their financial pain and no basis exists for solving their problem on the backs of other interests that are equally or more at risk. It is clear from the ARC press release that the plan is to not only impose daily remittance, but also to change the remittance cycle. The assertion that the remittance cycle will not move all the way to daily remittance is small assurance to agencies already suffering business starvation.
Credit sales already account for 84 percent of sales according to ARC’s latest report. The cash component is continuing to decline. And e-ticketing continues to grow, with attendant savings for the airlines.
More fundamentally, we are aware of no reason that the airlines cannot get all the timely information they require from CRS records, and related IAR data, that are real-time or near-real-time available to them. Unless it can be demonstrated that there are no realistic alternatives to getting the data sought through daily reporting, there is no basis for the airlines, through ARC, to impose a costly and disruptive solution on the travel agency community. With IAR accounting for virtually all sales now, there are likely a number of automation solutions that would “expedite the flow of accurate data to the carriers,” without penalizing further the financial well-being of travel agencies.
ASTA is prepared to work with the airlines constructively to resolve issues of all kinds. But travel agencies are as besieged as the airlines and cannot accept simply being told that another income transfer is going to be imposed on them, this time through ARC. ASTA wants to see good faith consideration of alternatives before participating in a purported dialogue that is really about foregone conclusions.
ASTA, therefore, asks that ARC provide it immediately with data that shows the exact extent and nature of the fraudulent voiding alleged to be the justification for the changes in voiding rules. We further ask for copies of analyses that assertedly support the stated change in reporting and remitting cycles, and in particular those analyses that show why the information cannot be obtained from a combination of CRS and IAR data or reasonable modifications thereof.
Yours truly, / Richard M. Copland, CTC / President & Chief Executive Officer