Backman sees ‘light at end of tunnel” in airline-agent dispute(1)

21 October 2002

KUALA LUMPUR - A December meeting of the IATA board of governors is lining up as a turning point in efforts by travel agents to strike a new Passenger Sales Agency Agreement with the airlines.

The breakdown of the Passenger Agency Conference in Miami has left both airlines and agents in limbo but UFTAA secretary general Birger Backman believes there has been some slight progress.

“We have a cat and rat situation,” he said.

“Most of the talks since Miami have been low-key but I think the message is reaching the top level of airline management that something is wrong and needs fixing.”

Backman said the lack of airline CEOs at the Miami conference had contributed to the impasse because the airline representatives who did attend were not empowered to make decisions.

“Now I feel this issue is getting the attention at the highest levels of airline management. Many, but not all airlines are realising that they need travel agents in the distribution network and they can’t let the current system fall over.

“I think there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Passenger Agency Conference was not closed, only placed into recess. The IATA board of governors in December must either close the meeting without a result – or find a way to keep it open.

“My guess is that the majority of airlines, travel agents and IATA will not want to let it go.”

For their part, Backman said travel agents have to wake up to the new environment.

“I think all travel agents have to look at their way of doing business. In some parts of the world, they haven’t grasped the changes that are coming, especially in regard to commission.

“If they don’t wake up, they will be shaken up.”

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