BCAA will significantly scale back its travel agency services, closing its storefront travel operations in all locations, effective January 15, 2010. BCAA Travel will continue to offer services to travel customers by phone, via its Burnaby-based customer contact centre, and online, via its travel booking services on www.bcaa.com.
BCAA has stated that it will ensure all existing travel bookings are fulfilled and that sufficient staff are available to meet customer needs through to the completion of their travel plans. No new travel bookings will be accepted in BCAA storefront locations after November 28th, 2009.
The decision to significantly scale back BCAA’s travel offerings was driven by fundamental changes in the travel industry, explains President and CEO, Bill Bullis.
"The decline of agency commissions has made it very difficult to operate an independent travel agency model profitably," says Bullis. "What’s more, the emergence of the internet has enabled suppliers to cut distribution costs by selling directly to customers, and increased the comfort of consumers to do their own trip-planning and booking. Travel revenues have been steadily declining, and BCAA has been unable to operate travel profitably for several years."
Whereas 15 years ago virtually all vacation and airline tickets were sold through travel agents or in person direct, today most of these transactions are completed online. Travel industry studies in Canada and the U.S. report that online bookings (direct-to-supplier, metasearch sites and online travel agencies) account for anywhere from 64% to 84% of total bookings. Supplier direct sales today account for 45 per cent of all travel bookings.*
Today’s decision will result in the elimination of 157 full-time and part-time positions, 124 in BCAA’s sales centre network and 33 at the association’s head office in Burnaby.
BCAA explored a range of options for continuing in-person travel planning and booking services for members and customers, including approaching other travel providers to purchase BCAA’s travel operations, or form an alliance to maintain a travel agency presence in BCAA sales centres. Unfortunately, BCAA was unable to reach an arrangement that was in the long-term interests of members and customers, employees, the association and other parties.
"Scaling back our travel operations to this extent was our least preferred alternative," says Bullis. "It’s extremely disappointing and upsetting for everyone at BCAA to have to end our relationships with so many of our colleagues, many of whom have been with the association for a long time." Bullis added that BCAA will fully meet its obligations to all affected employees, and will offer out-placement and career counseling services, including staging career fairs in various locations.
Despite challenges in BCAA’s travel business, and challenges arising from the economic downturn, BCAA says that its other operations remain fundamentally strong with steady insurance sales, stable membership numbers and customer satisfaction scores indicating that the organization is an industry leader in the provision of road assist and insurance services.
"Although we expect many members and customers will miss BCAA’s high-quality travel agency services in our sales centres, this decision will better enable us to grow our membership and insurance businesses, and explore opportunities to offer other products and services to meet member needs," concludes Bullis. "We have every confidence that BCAA will continue to be a relevant and highly valued part of our members’ lives for many years to come."
BCAA will be accepting inquiries from other travel providers interested in purchasing remaining travel assets, or in serving as a preferred travel supplier to BCAA members.
The decision to close storefront travel operations does not affect other BCAA divisions, and all 27 BCAA locations will remain open to serve members and customers in other areas. Those include insurance (including travel medical insurance), membership, retail and auto travel services consisting of maps, TourBooks, CampBooks and TripTik route planning. BCAA’s roadside assistance services are also unaffected by this decision.
* Phocuswright Canadian Online Travel Overview 2007