Saturday, 2 May 2009

PATA – Who goes there, travelers friend or foe?

PATA – Who goes there, travelers friend or foe?
By Bali BS News
Jul 27, 2005, 02:42

Their name the “Pacific Asia Travel Association” certainly sounds impressive enough, with its members proudly displaying their PATA membership icons on their web sites, much the same way as other travel agents who belong to other travel associations do. But what does PATA stand for as an organization, and what does it do? Is it an organization for the good of travel, or simply for the good of member travel agents? You see many other travel associations provide or help their members get “bonded insurance” for example; An insurance scheme to protect any monies paid by guests in the event the association member goes bankrupt or otherwise ceases to trade. Also, many travel associations clearly have and state codes of conduct for their members.

Unfortunately, from what PATA’s web site says and also used to say, plus their apparent unwillingness to reply to us substantially (we just get a “Please refer to our web site to answer your questions” response when we contacted them saying “Your web site does not tell us what we need to know”), tends to indicate the worst; They are simply and solely a sales and marketing association for travel agents. Why is this so bad, and why should we report upon it? Because we believe many people’s (tourists) perception of a travel association is that it is also there for the clear benefit of travelers. PATA do not seem to offer any protection and / or security for travelers. So we believe people wrongly feel a travel agent showing PATA membership offers them some form of benefit or even security when dealing that agent, when it does not!

If you refer to their web site,, the only traveler orientated page seems to be their “PATA travelers code”, something they approved at their 2003 sustainable tourism conference in India. We urge you to read it, especially as we believe you will probably be as under-whelmed as we were. In fact, PATA’s stand on “Responsible Tourism” itself is just a statement, not a membership requirement. So seemingly any of their members can claim they adhere to PATA’s mandate just to make marketing license from the term “responsible tourism”, as people used to do with the term “sustainable tourism”, and with apparent impunity, even if they are actually as responsible as Osama bin Laden. But that comes as no surprise to us.

It was not that long ago that PATA published a membership code of conduct on their web site. But it has since apparently disappeared! And, as stated before, when we ask why their member code of conduct has gone and do they still have one, we simply get told to look at their web site, hmmmm! Now a code of conduct is a set of rules that members must agree to, presumably for the benefit of the industry and travelers. So why have PATA seemingly gotten rid of them? We think we know the answer; that they had so many complaints about members and decided it was unenforceable or against their better financial interests. We know of at least one formal and substantive very serious complaint against PATA member PT Bali Discovery Tours which never, it seems, resulted in any investigation let alone action being taken. In fact afterwards, not only did PATA’s membership code go missing, but their vice president for Development traveled with Bali Discovery Tours CEO in June 2005 as joint speakers at a conference in the Philippines. Is that “responsible tourism”?

Also gone from PATA’s web site are the payment instructions telling members how to send their membership fees to a Hawaiian bank account, and details of their principle office in the USA. Now only reference is given to their Asian offices on their web site, and no details on where members are to send the money. Is it still to Hawaii? If so why? Is or was PATA really an American owned marketing association? Of course, with PATA unable or unwilling to answer our questions, we can not say for sure. But while you are looking over their web site, immediately after visiting their pages for “PATA’s Travelers Code” and “Responsible Tourism”, we suggest you visit their “Join PATA” – “A world of benefits” page; is it just us, or does the 36 pixel red font give you both nausea and the distinct impression PATA are all about “sell, sell, sell” American eighties style?

Isn’t it about time SE Asia had a travel association with special consideration given to travelers, not just members; even if for no other reason than to compete with western travel associations? With vigorously enforced codes of conduct, and bonded insurance either being part of the membership or at least a specially negotiated option for members at a group discounted rate, for the benefit of travelers. After all, IATA has such a scheme, ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) have it, Australian agents have the Travel compensation Fund, and so on. In retrospect for us the PATA symbol is a turn off and means nothing more than dealing with a self-confessed overly sales orientated travel agent; PATA? Maybe not, thank you!

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