The Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group's general body meeting saw the association set out its achievements to date and its future targets.
Since reforming under a new committee earlier this year, the Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group (DTTAG) has been battling hard to restore its finances, gain industry recognition and most importantly, boost its membership by winning back the trust of disillusioned travel agencies.
The group's president, Iain Andrew (the senior vice president of Dnata Agencies), its manager, Leo Fewtrell (Tourism Ireland's GCC representative) a dedicated committee of eight other notable Dubai travel agencies have to date gained the support of 54 members and significantly, have eradicated the AED 190,310 (US $51,860) debt the group had run up under its former managers.
We are currently a group of 54 members, but that’s not enough.
In November, DTTAG's bank balance had almost hit the AED 57,000 ($15,533) mark, while the group had secured sponsorship for training and other initiatives from AIG Insurance, EmQuest, Holiday Autos and Qatar Airways.
However, many Dubai travel agents remain sceptical and are holding back from joining the group, despite its rejuvenation under a new proficient and motivated leadership.
DTTAG therefore staged an annual general body meeting at Emirates Aviation College on December 16 where it outlined some of its achievements to date, as well as some of its objectives.
It was hoped that by stating some of these attainments and goals that more agents would sign up to DTTAG.
Around 100 delegates took the trouble to attend the event, where in addition to the DTTAG presentation the group's supporters including IATA, EmQuest and AIG gave presentations on industry-related topics.
Andrew kicked off the DTTAG presentation by asserting the group's efforts to reduce debt while keeping membership fees down. During 2007 DTTAG had introduced a membership fee structure that took into account the size and the revenue of agencies.
"Fees start from AED 2000 ($545) and have been kept down with tremendous help from our sponsors," he said. "We have reduced fees because we were told it was expensive."
Andrew also noted that the members of the executive committee did not get paid for their efforts and that in 2007 had collectively provided 350 hours of their time to DTTAG pursuits.
He said DTTAG currently had 54 "paid-up members" as opposed to 39 in 2004 and stressed that the group welcomed "honest and open feedback" from both members and prospective members.
Andrew said that one of the key roles of DTTAG was to liaise with the travel industry on behalf of its members and their interests as travel agents: "[For example], we are constantly liaising with IATA and trying to convince them to be more agent-friendly," he said.
"We are also speaking to them about keeping agent bank guarantees as low as possible."
Most Dubai-based agents currently have to pay out AED 100,000 ($27,250) to be IATA credited but DTTAG has set the wheels in motion to find an insurer to act as guarantor.
Andrew and DTTAG manager Leo Fewtrell have also been liaising with Dubai's Department of Tourism Commerce Marketing (DTCM) to help clarify how the new licensing by-law will impact travel companies in Dubai and has negotiated discounts for training and marketing.
Agents were given a 50% discount on stand fees at October's Business Travel Show Dubai, while two agent training sessions have already been staged at a subsidised rate.
DTTAG has also updated its website and, at the request of members, has provided them with DTTAG window stickers and certificates, which in future, it is hoped will indicate to clients that they are booking with a bonafide agent.
Andrew also stressed that, at the request of members, the group had made recommendations as to the fees agents should charge their customers. These include holiday refund and reissue charges.
However, he bemoaned the fact that just 25 of the 54 members had signed the declaration agreeing to these recommendations, despite the financial benefits they afforded.
"By charging these fees the average travel agency can earn AED 60,000 ($17,000) per year," he said. "So, I wonder why agents have not signed up?"
Despite the DTTAG achievements outlined by Andrew, some agents were sceptical as to why they should join, but few gave valid reasons.
Most agreed that they needed a united body to make them strong in the face of challenges such as 0% commission, IATA bank guarantees, the rise of internet bookings, DTCM licensing laws and the need to ensure that staffs are well trained as competition hots up.
"We need to work together to ensure we protect ourselves because I don't know about you, but I don't fancy facing these challenges by myself," said Andrew. "We are currently a group of 54 members, but that's not enough."
"The travel market is a tough one, with pressures from the internet and suppliers going direct to customers we need to work collectively."
He noted that even if 150 of the 260-plus Dubai travel agents came on board, it would be enough to negotiate deals with a wide range of travel suppliers, from airlines and hotels, to travel insurance companies.
"If we go to Qatar Airways as 54 agents and ask for a deal of 5% kick back [on air tickets sold], they won't take much notice, but if we go to them as a group as 260 agents, they will sit up and listen," he added.
Andrew and Fewtrell said DTTAG would continue to campaign on the behalf of Dubai travel agents but expected their support in return. Members could expect further subsidised training and more discounts negotiated on their behalf.
DTTAG also plans to approach the DTCM about consumer protection and how booking with a DTTAG member will ensure customers and visitors are in safe hands.
Andrew said DTTAG also planned to launch a press campaign to make consumers aware of the group's role and how booking with a DTTAG agent would pay dividends.
DTTAG's next general executive committee meeting will be staged on February 10 and the next general body meeting in June. For more information e-mail email@example.com or visit the DTTAG website (www.dttag.com).
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