ICYMI: top travel stories from April

In case you missed it, here are the biggest stories in travel last month. Subscribe to Travel Daily to never miss the news.

Helloworld ups profit forecast

Helloworld last month announced an upgrade to its current pre-tax earnings guidance, with the company now forecasting a full year EBITDA result of between $52 and $55 million. The company is also expecting annual TTV to be $5.8 billion, with the company saying that while trading conditions remain challenging with continued airfare discounting and strong competition, TTV and margins are being maintained. Moreover the synergy benefits identified as part of the company’s merger with AOT will all be delivered by the end of next month, with the full benefit flowing into 2018.

“It is pleasing to see the combination of solid TTV, margin improvement, particularly in the wholesale division, and careful cost control delivering improved outcomes for the business,” said ceo Andrew Burnes. “We always said it was a two year process to get this business to where it needed to be and fortunately we have achieved a lot over the last 14 months,” he said. In particular the agency network reported “very strong trading” in the March quarter, while Helloworld’s own transactional businesses had also performed well, Burnes added.

Flight Centre training on Sabre

While no formal confirmation has been provided by anyone involved, Flight Centre’s major GDS switch from Travelport to Sabre appears to be well under way, with consultants across the Flight Centre group now undergoing training in the lead up to a planned 01 July changeover.

The move is understood to have been part of the outcome of a global tender under which the different Flight Centre divisions were able to select their own GDS provider.

As detailed in the December 2016 issue of travelBulletin, Travelport still maintains it has a multi-year agreement with Flight Centre but it’s clearly no longer the worldwide deal that had been in place. Flight Centre in Australia and New Zealand have gone with Sabre, while Amadeus is believed to have won the company’s business in Europe. A Flight Centre spokesperson was unable to confirm or deny the change, saying “because of confidentiality we are unable to make any comments about our GDS contract”.

Scenic Eclipse program out

The inaugural itineraries for Scenic’s highly anticipated super-luxury expedition ship Scenic Eclipse were released last month, with a suite of brochures detailing the on-board offering and 2018/19 voyages. The 228-passenger “discovery yacht” is on track to launch in August 2018, with a maiden season including the Americas, Europe & the Mediterranean, Antarctica & South Georgia and the Arctic.

While sailing in polar regions the vessel will be equipped with two helicopters, while in other locations one helicopter will be complemented by a submarine capable of diving to 200 metres. A luxurious on-board experience will complement the adventurous offerings, with Scenic touting “ten dining experiences” including five distinct on-board restaurants. Bookings for Eclipse have been so strong already that Scenic has opened pre-registration for the 2019/2020 season.

Webjet tones down advertising

Webjet’s contenders for the most annoying ads on TV have disappeared from our screens, but we haven’t seen the last of the online travel agent in our living rooms. After raising hackles across the country with its claim of offering a wider range of airfares than bricks-and-mortar travel agencies, Webjet appears to have taken a different approach with its latest campaign which avoids anti-agent provocation.

A new ad series on Australian television urges travellers to “go to the one website that lets you easily compare all your available choices at anytime from anywhere”, before offering travellers the backing of 24/7 customer support. The online juggernaut’s previous campaign incited outrage from travel agents and prompted AFTA to raise the issue with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Constellation Journeys enters air touring

The luxury air touring market in Australia is set for a shake-up with the launch of a new entrant from the former head of APT’s Captain’s Choice brand, Dan Kotzmann. Called Constellation Journeys, the start-up will offer all-inclusive tours from April next year. Qantas veteran Captain David Oliver will pilot a chartered QF Boeing 747 on a 21-day launch itinerary, taking up to 215 passengers on a round-world trip via Hanoi, Agra, Delhi, the Serengeti, Marrakech, New York, Havana and Tahiti.

Kotzmann left his role as managing director of Captain’s Choice last year, having spent 15 years with the APT Group. He said his new company would tap the trend towards “experiential, educational and active adventure”, and that it would “make the extraordinary accessible”. Prices on the inaugural tour range from $19,500 in Economy class up to $78,000 in First class. Kotzmann says he is in talks with Qantas about a second charter later in 2018.

U by Uniworld age shift

U by Uniworld has altered its targeted age bracket from 18-40 to 21-45, the brand’s chief executive officer Ellen Bettridge revealed to travelBulletin. Bettridge said the company decided the 18 to 20-year-old demographic was “a little too young” as those travellers had “a different mindset”. The decision was also prompted by feedback from trade partners on board the inaugural sailing of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s S.S. Joie de Vivre, who said they wished the age range was a little older.

“We heard this and we listened to them and we said ‘you know what? Let’s go for it, let’s change it, it’s not too late,'” Bettridge said. Fiona Dalton, managing director Australia for Uniworld said “the sweet spot” for the brand would be within the 25-35 year old age bracket.

Virgin Australia to offer Economy X

From 21 May, Virgin Australia will introduce Economy X into its Boeing 737 fleet, in what the airline describes as a product designed to provide more comfort and to enhance passengers’ experience. Economy X will offer up to 30 seats with extra leg room in the first three rows of the economy cabin as well as exit rows. Passengers will enjoy a minimum of 3 inches (7.62cm) of extra legroom, along with preferred overhead locker space, priority boarding and priority security screening.

The seats will be installed in Virgin’s 737 fleet over the coming months, and the airline will install the product on its international services, which replaces the current Economy Space+ offering. On long-haul international flights, it includes a guaranteed first meal choice and a premium noise-cancelling headset. Economy X will be free of charge for Velocity Frequent Flyer Platinum members and their companions on the same booking, while others can select the option for an extra fee.

Outrigger eyes return to Australia

Honolulu-based hotelier Outrigger Enterprises Group is keen to re-enter the Australian market as part of a broad global expansion under new owners KSL Capital Partners. Speaking to travelBulletin, Outrigger executive vice present and chief operating officer Paul Richardson signalled that KSL was keen to reboot its presence down under, specifically back into Queensland.

“I’m pretty sure that given Australia’s stability and what we have to offer, we can come back here in an equity position and offer the Outrigger hospitality to Australian people in their own country,” Richardson said. Outrigger exited Australia in 2015, selling its portfolio of four properties to the Mantra Group. The hotel chain has 37 properties, mostly in Hawaii and in the Pacific. Beyond Australia, KSL has plans to boost its presence to Florida, California, Mexico and Hawaii’s outer islands.

Wireless contest takes off

The race to offer inflight wi-fi on domestic flights is hotting up, with both Qantas and Virgin Australia launching customer trials in recent weeks. After months of in-house testing, Qantas was the first to begin trials with its passengers in early April when it switched on systems aboard its first “internet-capable” Boeing 737-800. Testing will continue on the initial aircraft over coming months before a wider roll-out across the 737 and Airbus A330 domestic fleet through to late 2018. Virgin followed just two weeks later with its own system, also aboard a 737-800, beginning a three month testing process.

Both carriers promise lightning fast downloads in the air, with Qantas using the nbn Sky Muster satellite service, while Virgin has partnered with Optus and Gogo to implement its system which uses a dual-antenna system to deliver simultaneous transmissions. Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce said the technology QF used was a generation ahead of most airlines around the world.

“On flights between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, where we have a lot of business travellers, we expect the system to get a real work out with email and browsing,” Joyce said.

Each airline has partnered with streaming services like Foxtel, Stan, Netflix and Pandora Plus and has provided the wi-fi without charge during the testing period. But at this stage only Qantas has assured its wi-fi will be free in the longer term.

Subscribe To travelBulletin