Steve Jones’ Say

So, two more retail brands are set to vanish from Australia’s towns and shopping centres. While not quite on the scale of the mass cull that wiped out Harvey World Travel, Jetset and Travelworld, the imminent demise of Cruiseabout and Escape Travel signals further consolidation in the retail sector.

To some extent, Flight Centre’s reasons for whittling down its number of brands are similar to those behind the creation of Helloworld. Maintaining and marketing numerous brands is onerous and expensive. Merging most of Escape Travel’s 127 shops into Flight Centre seems logical enough. Both operate in the mass market and Escape’s brand awareness is not particularly strong, or loved. With the exception of staff who will be attached to the brand, its passing will not be mourned. To that end, Escape’s demise is unlikely to result in lost sales.

The same can’t be said about Cruiseabout, a business acquired alongside Turramurra Travel in 2002 for under $400,000.

Will customers who booked with Cruiseabout view Flight Centre or Travel Associates as a natural alternative? Some will, of course. But equally, Cruiseabout’s specialist nature will inevitably have lured many would-be cruisers. In the absence of the brand, it is certainly possibly, likely even, that more than a few bookings will slip through the net.

To mitigate such a scenario, Flight Centre is promoting a message of continuity. The brand name above the door may be different but the consultants and their specialist knowledge will remain.

Yet that in itself has created issues internally, with Travel Associates consultants concerned the high-end nature of the brand may somehow be tarnished by the influx of new agents and rapid growth of the network.

But such unrest will settle. Furthermore, it’s not hard to conclude that complementing Flight Centre’s mass market appeal by ramping up efforts to target high-spending customers with high-margin luxury products is a sound strategy.

Not quite so sound has been Uniworld’s ageism strategy.

I could see what it was trying to achieve when it banned over 45s from its U by Uniworld product. I could also see it was completely flawed. Unsurprisingly, those age restrictions have now been lifted.

Only now, according to the company, have they understood that feeble and decrepit over 45s like myself also enjoy a lie-in, funky on-board decor and exploring the nightlife of a city. Who knew?

I had assumed the absurd notion of pigeonholing “older” travellers, or, indeed, millennials, was a marketing blunder of the past. Remarkably, it seems not.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the U-turn was more a response to consumer backlash than consumer demand, as Uniworld is claiming.

Think about it. A 49-year-old makes enquiries about a U by Uniworld cruise only to be informed they’re too old and patronisingly advised to book a different itinerary with a sister brand more suited to their advancing years. I know what my response would be, and it wouldn’t be a positive one. I suspect many people of my vintage would share such sentiments.

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