Aaron is a partner at Pointon partners Lawyers and probably the only lawyer in Australia that operates a tour business. Aaron was recently elected to the CATO Board for the first time, and in this quick Q&A, he takes a look at the future of travel, and the role CATO can play in the industry's recovery in Australia.
You're a lawyer with a travel background, tell us a little about your travel industry experience.
I fell into travel by accident – when I was in university, a bunch of friends and I developed a community of soccer fans to support Australia’s national teams known as the ‘Green & Gold Army’. The community developed to a stage where we were able commercialise it through the sale of organised travel packages to major soccer tournaments.
We’ve been operating group travel programs since the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Our last major project was for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, where we delivered group travel programs for around 700 Australians.
From the legal side, I never really had a focus on travel law until I moved to London in 2015 and fell into a role with a firm that had a travel industry speciality. I acted for numerous tour operators, OTAs, wholesalers and agent groups while in the UK.
I moved back to Melbourne at the end of 2018 and started a dedicated Travel, Tourism & Events practice group at my current firm, Pointon Partners.
You've consulted to CATO for a few years in a legal capacity with your company, Pointon Partners, what motivated you to run for a position on the CATO Board?
I’ve been actively involved with CATO since early 2019 when I presented at CATO’s ‘Crisis Management’ conference - who would’ve thought the learnings of that day would be activated little more than a year later.
During the Covid-crisis, my involvement increased and I worked with Brett Jardine (MD) and Dennis Bunnik (Chairman) to represent the industry in discussions with the ACCC in relation to consumer credits and the like.
From that work, I thought there was a need for a ‘legal voice’ on the CATO Board.
Something of an outsider, what experience, expertise or unique viewpoints do you think you'll bring to the CATO Board?
I think I bring a unique mix of legal and practical industry experience - I would assume I’m probably the only lawyer in Australia that actually operates a tour operating business.
I understand the difficulties industry operators are experiencing, because my business is going through the same pain – we had some large programs planned for the Tokyo Olympics and the Copa America soccer tournament in Argentina. So we are dealing with refund demands, credits and all of that.
From the legal side of things, I act for 50 + tour operators of various sizes and so I’m also able to use the general feedback from my clients to contribute to discussions on issues the CATO Board are considering.
CATO is the peak representative body for the Australian travel industry's land supply sector, what role do you see it playing in the local industry's recovery from the global covid-19 shutdown?
CATO has developed into a strong and active voice for the land supply sector. Covid has really highlighted the need for industry participants to come together to achieve best outcomes. I see CATO continuing its advocacy, representative and educational work to ensure the land supply sector is able to navigate through the crisis as best it can.
CATO Members create and supply travel product to Australia's retail travel networks, what role will those members play in helping retail find its feet again?
From the leisure side of things, retail’s bounce-back will be more difficult if there isn’t interesting and compelling product to sell. I know CATO members are using the ‘down-time’ to concentrate on developing new and interesting product offerings to meet changed consumer expectations. Hopefully this work will assist retail to find its feet sooner than later.
Fundamentally, how changed do you think tourism will be when international borders re-open and people start moving again?
I suppose it all depends on whether or not an effective vaccine is developed. The industry will no doubt experience consolidation regardless. From a travelling public perspective, maybe I’m being naïve, but I don’t think the ‘tourism experience’ will change all that much. But hopefully it means the end of the buffet!
If you could travel to any place on the planet right now, where would it be?
Having been cooped-up in Melbourne for past month or so, I’ve had plenty of time to dream about laying on a sun-lounger with a cocktail at a beach club in Mykonos!