Will PATA end the old-school syndrome?

BANGKOK, 8 October 2019: The 68-year-old Pacific Asia Travel Association says it will adopt democratic elections and embrace a new online business model to drag itself into the 21st century.

In a letter to the members, last week, PATA Chairman Chris Bottrill said proposed new governance rules should be fully introduced by May 2021.

For the 800-plus members*, the biggest change will allow them to elect members to the board of directors ending decades of a closed-shop selection that favoured an ‘old-school fraternity’.

Members of  PATA Chapters and its student/youth network will also be represented on the board through an election process.

But another change in the rules will see the termination of around 14 standing committees that will be replaced by short-term task forces conducting their research and recommendations mainly online. 

“These revisions are designed to propel PATA forward in the coming years. Through these changes, we aim to generate stronger outcomes and increase opportunities for meaningful participation in the association,” Bottrill told members in his preamble.

“At the core of the changes is an increase in online dialogue and the new governance model that calls for the election of the association’s board and even the smaller, more powerful executive board members.”

PATA will dissolve its current unwieldy standing committees that meet twice a year replacing them with short-term streamlined Expert Task Forces (ETFs) that will work on specific topics of interest linked to the travel industry or the association.

Recommendations by the ‘Governance Task Force’ will be adopted as new bylaws that will be presented to the board meeting in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, in April 2020.  Based on board approval, the association will implement the changes and accomplish a full transition by May 2021.

TTR Weekly fielded questions to PATA chairman Chris Bottrill.


Q: Could you elaborate on the role of online communications in the proposed changes, especially for elections and task forces discussions?

A: We intend to have task forces that will meet in person and communicate in other ways (conference calls, online discussion, document sharing during the period of their work (up to one year).

The task forces will also participate in the board meetings to present their findings or provide updates and seek further input to fulfil their terms of reference.

The intent is that there will be a dialogue with the board and the executive board on important matters for the association and the industry. The task forces will not be large in order to enable effective interaction amongst task force members during their term.

Regarding elections, we are continuing to work on the election process, but the intent is to reach out to all members and candidates that meet certain criteria who will be eligible to stand for election and be voted into office by the membership at large.

However, we will have certain categories that will be voted into office by the representatives from that category, so that we maintain an equitable balance of public and private sector members on the board and executive board.

Q: When will the first online election occur?

A: We are working on a transition strategy right now, but we anticipate that the first board elections will take place after our UAE meetings in April of 2020. We need to wait until the final proposed changes are approved by the current board.

Q: You mention the digital era is probably the most disruptive influence impacting on a traditional association. Could you clarify the steps PATA will now take to respond to that challenge?

A: The digital era is highly disruptive, but as an association, we need to embrace the change, not pretend it does not exist.

We have embarked on many operational strategies to achieve this, but we must also face this in our governance model and find enhanced value for participation. We intend to maintain the current two annual in-person board meetings and to increase the executive meetings from three to four a year.

We will not be requesting members to participate in lengthy in-person committee meetings. This commitment of time and cost is challenging, and it is our intent through the changes to ensure that members time and investment is well served.

Through the formation of ETF’s, we will seek targeted, specific expertise from across our association and beyond to answer and address questions that an elected board and executive board will ask.

This means any individual based on their knowledge, expertise, and energy will be able to contribute to the association. We will connect with members online through various mechanisms such as CRM that have become standard operating procedures in a digital business environment on a wider variety of issues that we expect will emerge through the focused board and ETF structure.

We will use the principle of micro-volunteering to seek specific information from specific sectors, or general information and opinion from all members through these online mechanisms so that all membership has the opportunity to be actively and easily engaged in the association.

Q: How many physical meetings will disappear from the calendar and be replaced by online deliberations?

A: We will reduce governance meetings by approximately 14 committee meetings per year. These will be replaced by the online deliberations noted above. Also, we will continue to hold forums, insight lounges, and colloquiums at every board meeting to provide updates, showcase member initiatives, and discuss ETF issues, so there will still be opportunities for dialogue.

Q: Why is the time frame extending all the way to May 2021 to implement change, especially when you say there is a level of urgency?

A: The transition plan is still in development however we have identified two AGM’s as the appropriate time to achieve the transition and communicate effectively and move from an appointed to an elected board, dissolve committees and so on. It may be possible to conduct the transition in less time, but this is still to be determined

Q: How are you going to ensure that committees will become task forces that are different in content and reflect real-time functional changes?

A: The Expert Task Force will be invited members based on expertise, and they will have a clear terms-of-reference and time frame. The task they will be requested to do will reflect the interests of participants. They will have the opportunity to work with others from organisations around the world, plus have the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise to make a meaningful impact on the industry and for the association.

Q: What is your definition of “short term” and what are some of the subjects the task forces may cover?

A: We have identified one year as a maximum period of time for an Expert Task Force to be in place and in some cases, it will be less. So, for example, should the board, executive board, or management identify an issue that requires immediate feedback, they will task an ETF to do the job and seek quick feedback and perhaps this might be one month, one board meeting cycle, or if it is more complex, then up to two board meetings. We want to ensure that there is a rollover of issues that are addressed, and we don’t ask too much of a group that will become difficult to complete.

We presented a range of tasks that the ETF’s may cover at the Cebu and Nur-Sultan Board meetings. They could include operational issues such as events or marketing programmes, advocacy issues such as climate change policies and actions, or governance issues such as bylaw reviews or chapter relations, and so on.

Q: What will be the size of the new board and executive board, and how long will they serve on the boards?

A: The proposed size of the new board is 40 members, and the term will be two years. Other details about intervals (between reappointments) are still being determined

Q: Precisely what will be the role of youth and chapters on the board in terms of representation and will they be elected?.

A: The youth and chapters on the board will be four or five, which reflects current numbers but will see an increase of youth representation. Chapter representatives will be elected by current destination chapters, and youth will be elected by student chapters

Q: How confident are you that the changes will be approved at the next AGM?

A: We have been in the process of organisational change and revision for two years. The issues and proposed changes have been presented at the last three board meetings, and in Cebu, the board voted unanimously to proceed with the concept model and plan as presented.

Again, in Nur-Sultan the board and members at large attending the meeting were consulted through the board meeting and a town hall discussion session.

Throughout, there has been confirmation that PATA is now poised to make a bold step forward to ensure we are productive in our activities and that we build upon the collective knowledge and skills of the association. We will go to the AGM in UAE with a fully scoped out change model, bylaws and process for the board to confirm and implement. We are confident that these changes will help propel PATA forward in years to come and build upon our purpose and legacy.

Q: Critics argue that the association’s advocacy role is zero. For example, PATA is not known for making a clear stand on such important issues as climate change.  Is this role being left to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg?

A: PATA has taken a range of advocacy positions on sustainability that we are proud of, but your point is well taken, and as an industry, we must do more to counter climate change impacts on the planet.

It is one of the most compelling challenges we face, and yet we are in the dichotomy of promoting travel and trying to protect our planet at the same time.

The reality is that people have been compelled to travel for generations, and this will unlikely change. We need to know how to do it better and support technologies and evolutions to accomplish this.

We have the ability to work with a global network of operators, destinations, and educators that are members of an organisation that supports responsible travel to and from the Asia Pacific and we must capitalise on that network to make the strongest positive impact we can. We have already identified this as an ETF topic of high priority, and as an Association, we must collectively identify what we are able to do.

(Note: * member count as stated in PATA Annual Report 2018 released earlier this year.)