It’s been a very busy few months for AFTA CEO Jayson Westbury, who has been in deep negotiations on behalf of Australian travel agents affected by the collapse of British operator All Leisure Group just after Christmas. The company, which operated a range of brands including Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery, ceased trading and immediately cancelled all forward bookings, affecting some 13,000 travellers. Sister brands Travelsphere and Just You were snapped up by G Adventures, saving about 200 jobs – but the cruise operations were shut down impacting forward bookings by passengers from across the globe.
While British clients were covered by All Leisure Group’s bond with the Association of British Travel Agents as well as the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL scheme, no such protection was afforded to travellers from Australia and the mainstream media was soon reporting tales of customers who had lost significant sums – not to mention their travel agents who in many cases were hit by credit card chargebacks amounting to thousands of dollars. In Australia the brands were represented by Discover the World, with country director Jeannie Foster caught in the crossfire.
As this issue went to press Westbury told travelBulletin talks were at an advanced stage, with AFTA “very hopeful of a successful outcome”. He has visited London to negotiate with his British counterparts at ABTA – where ironically All Leisure Group chairman Roger Allard was a director until the collapse. It’s understood more than $1 million is at stake – and if AFTA can manage to finalise a cross-border compensation deal of that size it will be a major coup and a credit to Westbury’s considerable behind-the-scenes negotiating skills.
MEANWHILE Tourism Australia’s lofty 2020 target of $140 billion in annual visitor expenditure is now looking to be achievable, with the inbound sector booming by all accounts. Last month TA hosted the Destination Australia conference in Sydney, and the organisation’s managing director John O’Sullivan was clearly looking further ahead, hinting at an ambitious $230 billion annual figure by 2030. That will clearly involve significant development of Australia’s own tourism product – so in this issue’s cover story Steve Jones has looked at the burgeoning opportunities posed by Indigenous tourism and the people working hard to make it better than ever.