Ireland's travel agents were in fighting form when they gathered at Citywest Hotel in Dublin for their annual conference two weeks ago. The theme of the event was “Embracing Change'‘ and the delegates were offered advice from a host of speakers on the future of the industry.

Privately, however, the mood in Citywest was less optimistic. Industry profits are falling, sales are in decline and commissions are being cut. Agents are facing increased pressure from the internet and low-cost airlines selling directly to the consumer; the middleman is being phased out.

At the start of this year, Budget Travel, Ireland's largest tour operator, halved its agents' commission from 10 per cent to 5 per cent. The company claimed it needed to become more competitive to tackle the likes of Ryanair and Aer Lingus.

The move was immediately criticised by travel agents who said they could not afford to pay staff and other overheads on the reduced commission. Worse was to follow.

Budget recently announced that from the start of next year, it will no longer deal directly with travel agents at all.

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