In a fair and just world, an industry body is mandated to look after the interests of all of its members with equal objectivity. Industry bodies are tasked to position themselves as an independent and impartial entity that observes an industry at a high level. When disruptions arise, one would expect an industry body to act in an objective manner, while facilitating discussion between its members to resolve any challenges.
Travelstart published the results of some controversial research that has elicited an interesting industry-wide response. It would be foolish of us to say that we were surprised at the reaction that various articles and interviews generated, however we were left dumbfounded at ASATA’s response.
Synovate was commissioned by Travelstart to conduct objective research into how our online fares compare to traditional travel agency fares. This was done with the key focus of determining how competitive our business is, how we can better our own value proposition and what we can do to improve our customer experience. Synovate is an independent and globally recognised market research company and Travelstart had no control over the market research process, apart from selecting the destinations and the agency groups in South Africa.
The findings of the research compelled us to take action. Travelstart views itself as a business with the customer’s best interest at heart. The price discrepancy between same agency branches on the same route and carrier was something we strongly believe customers should be aware of. Poor customer service was another point of contention that came to light. Surprisingly, the industry had very little to say about this and has focussed on the issue around pricing.
Travelstart did not release the results of the market research to pick a fight with the industry. We are part of it. However, when there is such a marked inconsistency in pricing, why should it be hidden from our customers?
We informed ASATA, on Tuesday, 8 November that we would be releasing the results of the Synovate market research, but received no response. ASATA’s reaction in the media after the results were published was surprising and unwarranted. They commented without having looked at the research.
ASATA stated that they would not have a ‘kneejerk’ reaction – however this has sadly been their stance since the press release was made public. They are strongly biased towards their main travel agency membership base and have effectively illustrated how up-and-coming sub industries such as online travel are marginalised rather than encouraged.
Stephan Ekbergh, CEO of Travelstart, has been summarily summoned by ASATA to appear at a disciplinary hearing as a result of Travelstart publishing and commenting on the results of the market research. ASATA have made their intentions clear. To the relief of their traditional travel agency members, Travelstart could be expelled as a member, and be forced to pay a fine. No attempt has been made to discuss the matter, notwithstanding a requirement to do so in the ASATA constitution.
For these reasons, Travelstart has resigned from ASATA. We have done nothing wrong other than highlight some areas of concern in industry practice, which ASATA seems to be defending.
Just remember, the internet is here to stay. It’s become an integral part of our daily lives. Online travel has grown exponentially both globally and in the South African market. It’s only going to get bigger.
Marketing Manager, Travelstart South Africa