With the end of another busy year in sight, it was a great privilege and honour to stand at our AGM on Thursday as the new President of the SPAA. I know I have many people to thank for helping me get here, and big shoes to fill - Ken McLeod has held the reigns steady for the last two years and steered Council with strong support and diplomacy. A big vote of thanks to Ken.
And talking of people to thank, I also wish to mention Association Secretary Janice Hogarth. Janice is our backbone, and lives and breathes the SPAA. Sandy MacPherson has steered the Association skillfully around the political arena - not an easy course. Last but not least, the SPAA Council give their own time and work generously, for the good of all our Members. Thank you!
A BUSY, CHALLENGING YEAR
As I said, it has been a busy year for the SPAA, and in the ever changing face of the travel industry, we have had lots of things to deal with. Most recently, the collapse of SuperBreaks and then Thomas Cook were major blows. They highlighted how devastating this can be, not only for customers but also for the hard-pressed travel people who had to step up and help, despite their worries for their own livelihood.
The failures flagged up the real need to reform the ATOL process. It’s broken, and no longer fit for purpose, which the Monarch, SuperBreak and Thomas Cook situations proved. We repatriated customers who did not book an ATOL-protected holiday, so what was the point? This is for the Government and the Department for Transport to solve, and we will carry on talking with MP's and MSP's to get our points over and our concerns heard.
GETTING OUR MESSAGE OVER LOUD AND CLEAR
For example, this year we hosted a dinner in Edinburgh for MSP's, and we also held a dinner in Westminster for MP’s. We hosted a table at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards a few weeks ago. The aim was to forge these relationships, help with Travel Legislation and get our views across to the people in Government. For the first time, we have been working with a Scottish PR consultancy - Tricker PR - which has seen the profile of the SPAA successfully raised, and our news, research and views being quoted in lots of publications and even on TV and radio.
Of course, there’s more than one way of communicating and while our business events are vital - the Spring & Autumn Seminars, STAR Exhibitions and the new Associate Conference, for example, it’s every bit as important for us all to just enjoy each other’s company and let our hair down sometimes. This is something close to my heart as the SPAA Social Convener for a few years, and it’s always fabulous to see the likes of the Dinner, Summer In The City, and the annual Awards Evening fill up and take off spectacularly. There will be more to come in 2020 and we will keep everyone up to date - before, during and after the event - on the website and in our regular bulletins.
PEOPLE, TRAINING - AND SPARKLE!
In fact, people are the heart and soul of our businesses, and that is something I am passionate about. We need to attract many more young people into the travel industry; get serious about training them, and then recognise their success at every level.
With this in mind and looking to the future, I want to champion an SPAA scholarship programme - to help our travel agent members take on school-leavers into their businesses, and in co-operation with our Associate members and their great training and other resources - to help our young people learn and develop their skills.
To recognise the people at the coalface of our industry - so important for the future - we will be starting an annual awards event for sales staff and managers in both leisure and business travel. The first ever ‘Sparkle Awards’ event will take place in September next year. Watch this space for much more information in the coming weeks.
We all realise the next few years will be difficult, with economic uncertainty and climate change now on our screens 24/7. We all know we need to do more to protect our planet, and give back to some of the destinations we send tourists - many of them our customers - to visit.
With this in mind, and as a result of being inspired by GAdventures founder Bruce Poon Tip’s Planeterra Foundation initiative, we have decided to raise funds to empower women to participate in social enterprise development, somewhere in the developing world. The objective is to help them build their self-esteem, and give them the chance to take on a leadership role in their communities. This really exciting project, launched through the Planeterra Foundation, is a first for the SPAA and we know from the generosity of our members towards our designated charities through the years, that you will get behind it. We will bring you more information when the project and country we decide on are finalised.
So, as you can see I have a lot of things on the agenda in the coming year and I am determined to steer the SPAA in the correct manner and in the right direction for the future. Finally, I also wish to thank sincerely, all our travel agent members and Associate members, for your loyalty and support this and every year. Without the people - and that means you - we would not be approaching our 100th birthday in 2021, in such good health and influence. Thank you, each and every one of you!
President | SPAA