Wednesday, 15 December 2021 02:48

Open letter to the travel industry from the TAANZ Board

Brent Thomas Brent Thomas

Here we are, the travel agency community, on the doorsteps of Christmas having weathered 21 months of the worst crisis ever to hit the industry. Travel Agents and Brokers have worked tirelessly on behalf of the New Zealand consumer to manage bookings through the nightmare of Covid. Changes in supplier conditions, border openings and then their subsequent closing have all been dealt with the customer centric focus the industry is renowned for.

Then Christmas was stolen for the travel agent and broker community. Not by the pandemic, not by the Government but, without even the respect of any consultation, by our single largest supplier and partner. A partner who the travel agency and broker community have whole-

heartedly supported in good faith not only over the past 21 months, but always in their times of need over many years – Air New Zealand.

The thought of announcing commission cuts just before Christmas has been perceived as a message to us that the travel agent and broker channel is not important to the national carrier. It certainly doesn’t recognise the efforts put in for Air New Zealand’s customers over the past 21 months. It certainly doesn’t recognise the industry fronting the conversations with customers that came with a large range of emotions when Air New Zealand offered credits rather than refunds. It certainly doesn’t recognise the ongoing work that travel agents and brokers have endured handling those same credits repeatedly for no additional remuneration. It certainly doesn’t recognise the long-standing partnership that exists between Air New Zealand and the travel agent and broker community. It certainly doesn’t recognise the significant mental wellness challenges in parts of our community.

TAANZ well understands that all businesses have had to review all costs and make, at times, some very hard decisions. As an industry we have had to say goodbye to 70% of our work colleagues – in fact they are more than work colleagues they were part of our family. Numerous agencies have had to shut their stores and their owners walk away from a lifetime growing a business. We understand the need for Air New Zealand therefore to make changes. It is the manner by which it was done, the timing and the lack of recognition for what has already been done that cuts to the core of the travel agency community.

As borders re-open and carriers return there will be more choice and complexity for the New Zealand consumer. The importance of the travel agency channel will again prove its value to, and support, those airlines who fairly recognise the channel’s sales and support.

Air New Zealand themselves have acknowledged, and demonstrated, that they are not equipped to handle the volume of queries generated by customers and that travel agents, both leisure and corporate, are essential to their sales and their customers’ journey.

TAANZ has real concerns for the New Zealand consumer based on the decision to cut commissions. Is there an expectation that this same level of customer and airline support will be possible after these commission cuts? Since inception, travel agencies have been an extension of the Air New Zealand customer service team. Who will be there now to handle that as the decision made by Air New Zealand will likely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some travel agencies?

As air travel comes back it makes sense that every airline seeks to maximise their sales. In order to maximise sales airlines will need the support of all channels. A critical channel for all airline sales is through travel agents and brokers. As such, TAANZ calls upon Air New Zealand to reconsider the decision they have made, which will impact their ability to not only maximise their sales opportunity going forward, but also achieve their stated goals to be “committed to being strong supporters of the New Zealand travel industry and its recovery” and continue their “strong travel agency partnerships”. They must consider whether the damage to relationships, sales and customer experience outweigh the savings, which are meagre in the context of their cost base, but meaningful to the agency community.

Finally, to all travel agents and brokers, hang in there. We are through the worst of the Covid crisis. As an industry we have navigated incredible change and disruptions over the years and survived. Many thought we would be long gone by now. But we are not! More than ever the New Zealand consumer will need your knowledge, expertise and above all customer focus to get them through the coming months and years. No supplier has the customer relationships, range of product, knowledge and expertise that you have! Have a good Christmas, enjoy the break and come back invigorated to tackle 2022.