Yukon bypasses travel agents for flight booking

The government is piloting a program to do its own flight bookings, cutting local travel agents out of the loop.

The government is piloting a program to do its own flight bookings, cutting local travel agents out of the loop.

About 500 flights to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary will be booked online by Yukon employees rather than by travel agents, said Alicia Debreceni, spokesperson for Highways and Public Works.

The pilot study will take about four months, she said.

“At the conclusion, we’ll examine the financial policy and administrative implications for using online booking with air travel.”

The government pays about $175,000 annually in booking fees to four local travel agents for flights to those three destinations, said Debreceni.

But travel usage fluctuates, so it’s hard to speculate on exactly how much the government could save by doing its own bookings, she said.

Before this pilot project, employees at the government’s travel desk did all the research into flights, and completed a “soft booking,” said Debreceni.

“The travel agencies perform that last step in the process, of actually hard booking the air travel.”

Now, the government’s travel consultants will complete the bookings themselves, online.

There should be no additional administrative costs to the government, since no more people will be hired to deal with travel bookings, she said.

The government will continue to use travel agencies for flights beyond those three locations.

The local travel agencies that will lose out because of this program are not speaking out about how it will affect them.

Three told the News that they are not able to comment at this time, and one could not be reached by press time.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson got a call about a week ago from someone who was concerned about the changes, but afraid to speak out about them, she said.

“It’s unfortunate that the government would suggest that private businesses shouldn’t be talking to the media, because that’s none of their business, if someone wants to raise a concern,” said Hanson. “And there shouldn’t be any perceived or implicit threat that if you talk that could have an impact on your future dealings with this government.”

Highways and Public Works has met with the travel agencies, but no one in the department directed the travel agencies not to speak with media, said Debreceni.

Public Works Minister Wade Istchenko could not be reached for comment by press time.

Hanson said she worries that this may be part of a bigger plan to undermine oversight and accountability when it comes to government travel.

She doesn’t have enough evidence at this time, but suspects that there could be more to the story that a simple cost-saving measure, she said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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