LEXINGTON, KY: The Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) has reacted forcefully to the news that Delta Air Lines decided to cut commissions to travel agents for tickets sold in the US and Canada. Delta will instead encourage e-ticket use, which will save millions.Similar statements by Continental Airlines, American Airlines, and Northwest Airlines swiftly followed Delta's March 18 announcement. Over the past seven years, airlines have steadily reduced commissions paid to agents.
The ARTA, a nonprofit trade association, responded immediately to Delta's decision by stating that it would be focusing "like a laser beam
on a consistent message: "We work for the consumer, not the airlines and other suppliers."
ARTA president John Hawks has a background in PR, and considers communications a key tool in this issue. "It is critical in everything we do, because we have so many publics,
Hawks said in a statement that the commission cuts are particularly painful in the context of the terrorist attacks. "After September 11, thousands of small US and Canadian travel agencies served Delta Air Lines passengers who rebooked and refunded tickets, and needed advice about travel plans."
That messaging will be incorporated into the mission statement and strategic plan of the ARTA at its April 21 board meeting. "It's very important that we do put the emphasis there, because the consumer is going to pay,
explained Pat Funk, ARTA VP of operations. "If the agency community dwindles down to just a few mega-agencies, you are never going to get an unbiased opinion on anything (related to travel)."
ARTA members will be supplied with new marketing materials to reflect that message. The association is also providing PR materials such as letters to the editor, press releases, and pitch letters to help members target local media.
The ARTA is also working to enlist support from non-air businesses, such as cruise lines, hotel chains, and tour operators.