Update: travel agents are forced to provide MTA with confidential information about their customers; MTA responses

The Malta Tourism Authority requires every travel agent / operator to provide clients’ personal information, including their identity card number, as well as the costs and details of their accommodation, travel and ‘other services’, documents provided to The Malta Independent Sunday reveal. Sources have expressed dismay at the serious breach of customer confidentiality imposed on the industry.

The documents relate to the establishment of an insolvency fund intended to protect clients against the threat of bankruptcy of an agent; However, industry sources are also seriously concerned about the amount of customer information they are required to provide and possible leakage by administrators to give competitors an edge in the market.

Talk to The Malta Independent Sunday, the President of the Federation of Associations of Travel and Tourism Agents (FATTA) Iain Tonna reiterated a similar sentiment regarding customer confidentiality; and, while insisting that the organization was in principle in favor of an insolvency fund, he felt that the MTA was “overzealous” with the amount of data it needed.

Tonna explained that FATTA, which has two representatives on the board and is bound by professional secrecy, has long believed that this information should be processed online and in real-time after travel agent Fantasy Tours had turned around. turned out to have accepted deposits up to two hours before the company declared insolvency.

Similar details can also be provided through an online system, but this would prevent government entities and administrators from gaining access to confidential information, as they will be able to extract the data to compile reports without actually compromising data protection.

He added that the current system is the result of a rushed policy due to infringement proceedings initiated by the European Union after Fantasy Tours declared bankruptcy and a number of clients suffered substantial losses.

The Insolvency Fund was created to create a financial support structure that will protect clients, who may need repatriation or reimbursement in the event of the bankruptcy of an agent or operator.

It is not yet known, due to lack of proper documentation published online, that schools, sports clubs, dance schools or the many other groups that organize annual trips will also be subject to the fund and its personal data requirements. .

Tonna explained that this is unfortunately a gray area and if any of the aforementioned trips made a profit, they would be required to register with the MTA and as such would be subject to the same conditions. than other operators.

Mandatory € 10,000 deposit into Insolvency Fund raises concerns in industry

The management board of the insolvency fund has decided that all organizers and retailers of packages and trips duly approved by the authority must pay a deposit of € 10,000 to the fund, regardless of the size of the company, which must be paid no later than December 15, 2017.

For example, large companies like ROCS Travel Group, Brittania Travel and Hamilton Travel, all of which have much higher turnover than some small and medium-sized agents, and therefore have much higher exposure, will pay the same down payment. .

In the event of non-payment of this deposit, the council will consider that the organizer or the retailer has withdrawn from the service and will no longer be authorized to sell travel packages.

Sources have also expressed fears that this amount could prove crippling for some of the smaller operators.

Tonna explained that the Tourism Ministry had stipulated that the fund should always have a minimum of € 500,000, following the government’s bailout to reimburse Fantasy Tours customers which amounted to around € 400,000, and thus wished place a guarantee for all operators.

It was initially suggested that the deposit be based on a percentage of turnover, with a minimum guarantee of € 10,000 for small and medium-sized agents, and a minimum guarantee of € 25,000 for large operators. However, due to a number of mitigating factors such as the fears of small operators that it could hurt profit margins and effectively boost their product in an already competitive industry.

As such, it has been agreed that all operators, numbering around 50 to 60, will pay an equal deposit.

Nonetheless, sources said they plan to not buy into the fund and cut tours for local customers, as the majority of their business is inbound.

The operator will also have to contribute € 2 per person (over 18) per package sold.

The funds generated by the contribution will be deposited in a second operating account of the insolvency fund which will also contribute to the protection against insolvency.

If adverse circumstances should arise and both funds are used, agents and operators will be asked to cover the cost in the form of a deposit which will be returned at a later date.

MTA response

In a response to The Malta Independent, an MTA spokesperson said that “The local travel industry, through its representatives in FATTA, has been involved at every stage of the planning and implementation of the insolvency fund project. An agent briefing and consultation was held last August during which some of the privacy concerns emerged. As a result, the Board of Directors of the Insolvency Fund decided that some of the information that had originally been agreed to be collected would no longer be needed. “

“MTA would like to stress that the board of directors of the insolvency fund is legally and ethically obligated to use all information with the utmost confidentiality. In addition, MTA itself respects the rules of data protection and customer confidentiality in the treatment of information which reaches it as a regulator. “

“In addition, from next year, the reporting of transactions covered by the Insolvency Fund will be done through a new online system which is currently under development. This will reduce the need for physical processing of information with strengthened privacy controls. “

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