In brief: May edition

A quick run down of some of the biggest stories that happened in April.

Tourism Australia casts net

Tourism Australia’s long running “There’s nothing like Australia” marketing tagline looks set to be replaced, with the agency last month making requests for Expressions of Interest from brand and creative agencies “to help evolve its brand strategy and creative direction”. TA said it wanted to develop a compelling and differentiated brand positioning to attract high-value travellers, along with a robust creative platform on which to base “engaging global and local/regional campaigns”. Speaking with travelBulletin at Australian Tourism Exchange in Adelaide, TA MD John O’Sullivan said “we are open-minded about how best to position the country”.

During his ATE presentation O’Sullivan also showcased the highly successful campaign run during the recent Superbowl football final in the USA, which was the culmination of various teasers about a prospective movie sequel to Crocodile Dundee. The tongue-in-cheek promotion was ultimately revealed as a tourism promotion, and acheived record results with more than 13,000 media articles and 101 million video views on social media. As 2020 approaches O’Sullivan noted the success of the Tourism 2020 targets, with future aspirations for the industry currently being developed by a newly constituted tourism steering committee headed up by former Sydney Airport CEO Kerrie Mather.

Air NZ, Virgin Australia split

Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia last month confirmed they would not renew their long-running trans-Tasman alliance — and shortly thereafter began announcing capacity increases and new routes which indicate the route between Australia and New Zealand has become a new aviation battleground. Air NZ chief commercial officer Cam Wallace told travelBulletin the decision reflected the changing dynamics of the market, along with a recognition that the withdrawal of Emirates flights between Australia and Auckland was likely to make ACCC reauthorisation of the alliance difficult, given that NZ and VA have a combined market share of more than 50% on the Tasman.

Virgin Australia group executive Rob Sharp said the change “allows us to capitalise on an opportunity,” with the carrier set to lift frequencies on key business sectors and also launch new routes from Melbourne to Queenstown and between Sydney and Wellington. There’s also widespread speculation that VA will deploy its low-cost Tigerair Australia brand on the Tasman. The existing alliance terminates from 27 October, with the carriers continuing to work on the fine details of the split including whether they will continue to codeshare or interline on feeder traffic to and from their respective domestic networks.

Flight Centre fined $12.5 million

The long-running stoush between Flight Centre and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission culminated in the imposition of a whopping $12.5 million fine last month. The penalty was the latest twist in the saga which saw Flight Centre lose an initial judgement in 2014 and fined $11 million — which was later reversed on appeal in 2015. The ACCC appealed again and won in the High Court, with a subsequent penalty hearing resulting in last month’s fine. The basis of the case was allegations that Flight Centre attempted to influence some airlines, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines, not to offer cheaper fares direct to consumers than it made available via the Flight Centre agency channel.

Speaking to travelBulletin prior to the penalty being handed down, Flight Centre MD Graham Turner slammed the case as a “waste of everyone’s time and money” and said it had made little difference to the way the company worked with airlines. He said he wasn’t sure “what technicality they got us on in the end,” but suggested it may relate to the language used in negotiations. “We may have told airlines on a handful of occasions that we would not be undercut…the other 990 times we said we want access to the same fares you have on your website, or which other people have. That has been our story forever and [this ruling] hasn’t changed that. We’re not going to support someone who won’t give us their best fares,” Turner added, concluding: “the company is not in the business of attempting to make airfares more expensive”.

Millions owed to Si Holidays creditors

The bad news around the collapse of Si Holidays continued last month, with revelations from the company’s administrators that the business owed suppliers, travel agent clients and employees more than $5.5 million. Of that grim total $831,000 was due to agents, while the company’s long-suffering staff missed out on entitlements worth almost $650,000. Administrator Damian Hodgkinson from Dem Asia Group gave a run-down on the reasons for the collapse, including the revelation that when the business was purchased by Tui Eruera from Mastercard in late 2016 it was recording losses of more than $2.2 million annually.

Almost 200 hotels and accommodation wholesalers are owed $4 million, including Outrigger Hotels Hawaii which had $415,000 outstanding and Dubai-based Destinations of the World which was owed around $600,000. The creditors list included 192 travel agencies including iTravel which was owed over $43,000, Destination HQ owed $48,000 and $36,000 outstanding to American Express Centurion. Hodgkinson said the business had revenue of $22 million for the year to 31 December but had “insufficient capital to support its transition from a high volume low margin wholesaler to a high margin wholesaler”.

Fiji cancels annual trade show

The timing of this year’s Fijian Tourism Expo turned out to be rather unfortunate, with a pending cyclone forcing the abrupt cancellation of the event just two days before it was set to take place. An official communique advised the show had been called off “because of safety concerns for all delegates due to the deteriorating and serious weather conditions”. The storm, which developed into the Category 3 Cyclone Kani, passed about 200km from Viti Levu leading to heavy rain and strong winds, along with localised flooding and the cancellation of all flights to and from Nadi.

The show had been scheduled to take place 10-12 April at the Sheraton Fiji on Denarau Island, and following the cancellation full refunds of registration fees were being provided. However the timing meant that hundreds of exhibitors and delegates were already in Fiji, meaning that after the storm passed on the Monday they were able to reconfirm appointments. The show had been set to feature about 100 exhibitor booths showcasing their wares to 150 international buyers, although Tourism Fiji confirmed that hosted buyer slots for the event had been “cut down dramatically” this year.

QF ramps up agent connection

Qantas last month relaunched its industry sales operations under a new “Qantas Agency Connect” brand, including a revamped agent website and the renaming of the former Qantas Industry Centre as the Qantas Agency Connect Team. The initiative will evolve throughout the year, with the aim of providing consultants with a one-stop online shop where they can manage bookings, find information and service customers 24/7. Name corrections, waitlisting, fare quotes, ticket requests and bookings (at this stage for domestic and trans-Tasman sectors) can be made on the site, which also offers intuitive navigation and a modern look and feel.

Access to the site is available for consultants using an IATA or TIDS number along with an agency password. Agency managers are required to register this month to ensure access to full functionality, with passwords required from the beginning of June. Agencies that were already registered for the previous Qantas Industry Sales site don’t need to re-register. Along with the new site, the carrier has also launched a range of benefits for agents who complete training on the ‘Learning Hub’ including access to discounted fares, Qantas Shop discounts and tickets to sports games, concerts and events.


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