Travel Agents Offered New ARC Programs
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ARC has also created a Verified Travel Consultant (VTC) program, a different accreditation for agents choosing not to sell airline tickets. This status still gives an agent the opportunity to be listed on the Agency List File with the associated VTC number, to be recognized as an ARC appointed agent, without airlines sales. Agents may brand themselves with their own name, rather than a host agency and receive commissions from the ARC MarketPlace® and Helix commissions.
When ARC was establishment in 1984, they were advised by the U.S. Department of Justice that it could bring an enforcement action in the future if the actual operation of ARC travel agency program proves to be anti-competitive in purpose or effect. ARC must remain non competitive, and unobtrusive to travel agencies.
Travel agents are beginning to question whether the ARC MarketPlace® will violate the anti-competitive agreement.
What is ARC MarketPlace®?
ARC MarketPlace® was designed by ARC to a be one-stop shopping tool for travel agents to book and earn commissions on tours, hotels, cars, trains, and even buses.
This travel agency exclusive tool offers:
- Availability to see and purchase over 9,000 products.
- All commissionable products.
- Destination activities with a low price guarantee.
- Competitive rates on car rentals.
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- Discounts on supplies and services to run a business. Business AdvantEdge program offers enrolled agencies deep discounts at vendors such as Office Depot, Office Max, HP, Sprint, FedEx, and USPS.
- Commission may be earned when clients book on the agent s website with the Affiliate Program.
Helix, also established from ARC in early 2011, enables travel agencies to work directly with preferred suppliers and earn commissions. For 2012, there will be $179 enrollment fee, but they do offer discounts for longer commitments. There is no minimum volume to join. VTC agencies or ARC-accredited agencies may join. Agencies keep 100% of the commissions earned. They also offer agent training to become specialists with various vendors and other training opportunities. Some of the training such as webinars, familiarization trips and more, may already be offered from vendors by being an ARC registered agency.
So, what is the controversy with ARC branching out in these selling directions?
- ARC MarketPlace® and Helix are direct competitors with businesses such as Travelbound, Shoretrips and Agent.net, plus other consortiums used by travel agents.
- Tour operators are likely to report airline sales through ARC. What does ARC do with the information reported by these air selling companies? How are ARC air ticketing sales information from agencies and tour operators kept separate from ARC MarketPlace® and Helix? Will volume, air carrier breakdown, and service fees all be tracked? These are controversial questions interested observers are watching.
- Can ARC continue to be neutral as a regulatory body of travel agencies when they have preferred suppliers among their programs, which also work with travel agencies and sell airline tickets?
- Host agencies that supply accreditation to independent agents may also suffer with the VTC program, making the host agency possibly less necessary to sell travel.
- Is it just a plain conflict of interest be a regulatory agency and being in the selling business with the same vendors being regulated, even though the companies are said to be independent of each other?
The Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) filed a complaint with the U. S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division. in early 2011, stating that ARC s foray into commercial endeavors which allegedly exceed the business model approved by the DOJ when ARC was incorporated. They believe ARC has strayed from its initial appointment as airline ticketing settlement services and accreditation.
What do agents think about ARC s selling programs?