IN BRIEF: February 2019
HELLOWORLD hits the political headlines
The close Liberal Party ties of Helloworld Travel CEO Andrew Burnes have become an issue in the upcoming Federal Election, after a series of explosive revelations last month were seized on by the Opposition. First came a Nine Publishing report about Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, confirming that he booked his holidays by simply calling Burnes, with Helloworld subsequently failing to charge his credit card due to a claimed administrative oversight. The report included a leaked extract from the Air Tickets booking system confirming the purchase, providing plenty of opportunity for political point-scoring as Senator Cormann’s department oversees the Whole of Australian Government (WoAG) contracts held by Helloworld for TMC and accommodation services.
That was followed a few days later by claims Burnes had facilitated a meeting between former QBT/Air Tickets chief Russell Carstensen and Joe Hockey, former Federal Treasurer and now Australian Ambassador to the USA, relating to travel management services for the Washington Embassy. Evidence tendered to a Senate committee cited Carstensen’s misgivings about the meeting, given that Hockey is a good friend of Burnes and also a top 20 shareholder in Helloworld. ALP Leader Bill Shorten seized on the issue, promising that Helloworld would be the “first item” on a proposed new National Integrity Commission should he be elected to power later this year.
Burnes emphatically denied any impropriety, and noted that AOT had won the WoAG contract in 2012 under the then Labor Government. Carstensen, who has flown under the radar since his abrupt departure from Helloworld in May last year, has suddenly returned to public view and it is intriguing to note that both Air Tickets and QBT are involved in the controversies. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.
Qantas takes strategic stake in Alliance Airlines
QANTAS has ruffled the feathers of rival Virgin Australia by purchasing a 19.9% stake in regional charter operator Alliance Airlines, which operates leases on behalf of VA. Virgin Australia was vocal in its concerns, suggesting the move may lead to changes in competition in the Australian market.
The board of Alliance confirmed it had not received any approach from Qantas prior to the acquisition, which cost the carrier an estimated $60 million — paying an average of $2.40 per share. QF said it planned to “ultimately seek regulatory approval from the ACCC to build on its current shareholding with a longer-term view of taking a majority position in Alliance Airlines in order to better serve the charter market”.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched a “Public Informal Merger Review,” encouraging stakeholders to comment so it could determine if there had been a breach of section 50 of the Competition and Consumer Act.
Lake pardoned after prison stint
AUSTRALIAN travel identity Trevor Lake, who was imprisoned in Cambodia four years ago over allegations of having sex with underage girls has been granted a full pardon.
Lake told travelBulletin that his legal team had finally been permitted to present his case to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who subsequently declared he had no case to answer and ordered his release effective immediately.
“So, life starts afresh,” Lake said.
Lake believes he was framed and convicted for “underage sex” when he attempted to expose a local charity for “corrupt and criminal” conduct.
His roles in the local industry included heading up The Travel Corporation’s former Asian specialist business Classic Oriental Tours, after which he established Discover Asia, on-selling to the McLachlan Travel Group when he relocated to Cambodia back in 2013.
Lake said he intends to remain in the country and marry his long-term girlfriend, with whom he runs a Siem Reap jewellery store.
Cameron-Smith to AAT
Long-time Trafalgar Australia chief Matt Cameron-Smith will step into the position of Managing Director of AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys, following the resignation of Hans Belle after just over two years in the role.
Cameron-Smith has led Trafalgar Australia since 2011 will take up his new role on 1 April.
He will lead AAT Kings’ team of over 400 staff across an Australian and New Zealand portfolio of guided holidays, short breaks and day tours, alongside the Inspiring Journeys small group offering.
Cameron-Smith said he was thrilled to take the next step in his career while remaining within the Travel Corporation family.
The Travel Corporation CEO John Veitch said Cameron-Smith had “played an integral role in the triumphs of Trafalgar over the last eight years.
“His strong commercial skills and business acumen, strategic thinking, internal and external stakeholder relations, motivational leadership style and passion for our brands will be a real asset to AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys,” Veitch added.
TTC has commenced a search for a new MD for Trafalgar.
CMV $2.4 million alleged theft
Susanne Hunter, the wife of former Cruise and Maritime Voyages Australia CEO Grant Hunter, is facing court after being charged with misappropriating more than $2.4 million from the cruise company. Susanne Hunter was a Director of CMV Australia, with Seven News revealing in mid-February the alleged swindle as the pair visited NSW Police.
The report confirmed multiple fraud and money laundering offences are being investigated, involving allegations of hundreds of money transfers from the company to Susanne Hunter’s bank account over a period of three to four years. CMV issued a statement confirming that an “internal investigation into accounting irregularities uncovered some concerns regarding the handling of company funds while the business was under the management of Mr Grant Hunter, CEO and his wife, Mrs Susanne Hunter, Passenger Service & Office Manager between 2013 and 2017.
“The matter was referred to police and is now the subject of a formal criminal investigation, on which Cruise & Maritime Voyages is unable to comment further.”
Grant and Susanne Hunter have not been involved with CMV since September 2017, when Dean Brazier was appointed as Managing Director.
Vail buys Hotham, Falls
American snowsports giant Vail Resorts has doubled down on its investment in the Australian market, last month confirming the acquisition of Victoria’s Falls Creek and Mt Hotham ski resorts from their current owner, Merlin Entertainments.
The properties will operate alongside Vail’s local flagship, Perisher Ski Resort in the NSW snowfields, with the company’s Epic Pass product expected to provide unlimited access to all three ski/snowboard areas.
Vail is paying Merlin AU$174 million for the resorts, with the deal expected to be finalised before the start of this year’s winter ski season in June.
The acquisition includes ski school, retail, rental, reservation and property management operations at both resort areas. Vail CEO Rob Katz said he was thrilled to expand the company’s presence in Australia “which is one of our most important international markets”. He said the acquisitions were part of Vail’s continued strategy to drive season pass sales and build loyalty with guests around the world.
Once the deal settles, the 2019 Epic Australia Pass and 2018-19 Epic Pass will provide access to Falls Creek, Hotham and Perisher in Australia, Whistler/Blackcomb in Canada, the Vail portfolio in Colorado and other US states plus partner properties in Japan including Rusutsu and Hakuba Valley.