In brief: February’s top travel stories

February was a busy month for travel with lots of mergers and acquisitions as well as the announcement of many listed companies' half year financial reports.

Flight Centre cuts brands

Flight Centre will create three new “super networks” as part of a major consolidation of its Australian retail networks, culling its Escape Travel and Cruiseabout brands in the process. Over coming months, stores will be rebranded as either Flight Centre or Travel Associates outlets as part of a “Rebrand and Grow” plan, with all Escape Travel and Cruiseabout sales staff to transition to the sister brands. Flight Centre says the move is part of a new focus on growing market share in Australia. It involves merging brands to create three leisure “super networks”, with one aimed at mass market (Flight Centre and BYOjet/Aunt Betty), another at premium travellers (Travel Associates and Travel Partners) and one for youth markets (Student Flights/StudentUniverse).

The news came as the company last month revealed record six monthly TTV of $10.16 billion in the first half, up 8.7% on the same period last financial year, and an underlying pre-tax profit of $139.4 million, up 23.2%. The group says it expects its annual result to be about 13% higher than last financial year and “within reach” of the record $376.5 million underlying profit achieved during the 2014 financial year.

Scenic acquires Mayflower Tours

A successful business relationship with Mayflower Tours in the US has evolved into a takeover of the company by Australian luxury cruise and tour operator Scenic for an undisclosed sum. From its Downers Grove headquarters, outside Chicago, Mayflower Tours operates tours worldwide, including in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia.

Its acquisition continues Scenic’s growth strategy in the North American market and will enable the Newcastle-based company to provide Mayflower greater access to river and ocean itineraries on both Scenic and sister brand Emerald Waterways. Likewise, Scenic and Emerald will be able to tap into Mayflower’s extensive land-based tours which can be paired with a cruise.

“We have worked with Mayflower Tours for several years and have always been incredibly impressed with the level of service and offerings that John and Mary Stachnik (Mayflower Tours founders/owners) have offered their guests,” said Scenic founder and chairman Glen Moroney. “So, when the opportunity came about due to their wish to retire, it was an easy decision”.

“So, when the opportunity came about due to their wish to retire, it was an easy decision”.

Mayflower, established nearly 40 years ago, will be operated by Scenic as a separate entity named Mayflower Cruises & Tours, employing the same executive team.

Helloworld Travel nears $3b H1 turnover

Helloworld Travel’s total transaction value (TTV) came close to $3 billion for the six months to 31 December 2017, despite the impact of airfare discounting in Australia and New Zealand.

Attributing much of its growth to increased ticketing volumes, the company revealed its TTV had risen 2.7% over the previous corresponding period to hit $2.968 billion. Its earnings (EBITDA) were up 18.2% to $35.5 million in the six months to 31 December, while its pre-tax profit was up $7.3 million to $26 million, in line with market guidance. The Helloworld Travel retail network grew by 50 during the six months to total 2,065 members across Australia and New Zealand.

“Helloworld Travel continues to invest in the brand and technology to provide enhanced travel solutions and experiences for its member network, partners and customers,” the company said in announcing its half year results.

“The successful rebrand to Helloworld Travel — The Travel Professionals has been well received by members and the public with significant growth in brand awareness.”

In the company’s Australia segment, TTV totalled $2.5 billion, up 2.1%, “despite falling international and air ticket prices,” the company said.

Cunard’s record Australian deployment

Cunard has announced it will base its Queen Elizabeth in Australia for 101 days over the 2019-20 summer, the line’s longest season down under.

The ship will sail on six roundtrip cruises from Melbourne and two from Sydney between December 2019 and March 2020, calling in at destinations in South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. The Victorian capital will be Elizabeth‘s home port for two months, while a New Zealand cruise over the festive break will include Christmas crossing the Tasman followed by New Year’s Eve in Auckland Harbour.

Cunard vice president UK and international development David Rousham confirmed that capacity issues in Sydney led the line to look for another Australian home. “Melbourne is an alternative but certainly we’re seeing Victoria at this stage as a strong demand market,” he said.

“Melbourne is an alternative but certainly we’re seeing Victoria at this stage as a strong demand market”

The line’s senior vice president Simon Palethorp said the record season reflected “unprecedented demand for the Cunard experience” in Australia. “Our new 2019-20 summer season will not only feature more cruises, it will also offer some exciting new itinerary options which we hope will entice even more Australians to experience Cunard’s legendary service and style,” he said.

Qantas record profit

Surging first-half results for Qantas Domestic, Jetstar Group and Qantas Loyalty have fuelled Qantas Group to achieve its best-ever 1H underlying profit before tax of $976 million, up 15% on the previous year.

The successful period will see Qantas reward shareholders, with up to $500 million to be returned to investors in the form of a 7c per share ordinary unfranked dividend, coupled with an on-market buyback of up to $348 million.

“After several years of consistent performance, we now have a lot of momentum behind us,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

“We’re vigilant about maintaining that momentum and we’re confident about the future it allows us to build.”

The company announced an investment in Jetstar, with 18 A321LR NEOs to enter the fleet from mid-2020, coming from an existing order of 99 A320 family aircraft with Airbus.

Qantas revealed it would introduce a new Qantas Group Pilot Academy next year which will initially train up to 100 new pilots annually.

The airline also announced the redevelopment of its SYD International Business Lounge, increasing capacity by about 30%, and an upgrade to the interiors of QantasLink’s fleet of 45 turboprop aircraft.

SeaLink invests in Fraser Island

Kingfisher Bay Resort and its sister property on Queensland’s Fraser Island, Eurong Beach Resort, have been acquired by the SeaLink Travel Group for $43 million.

Kingfisher Bay Resort Group (KBRG) accounts for 90% of accommodation options on the island, along with the majority of the destination’s touring experiences in Fraser Explorer Tours and three ferries under the Fraser Island Ferries entity.

“Kingfisher Bay Resort Group is by far the major hospitality, touring and transport operation on Fraser Island, and we are delighted to be taking ownership of this leading tourism business to drive future protection, promotion and growth of the island,” SeaLink managing director Jeff Ellison said.

The transaction, expected to be completed in early April, will see SeaLink establish a business hub in Brisbane to serve its new and existing Queensland operations.

KBRG’s managing director Gary Smith said it was great to see the business acquired by a “progressive Australian company”.

“It is great for the future of the business, for our people and the Queensland tourism industry”.

SeaLink chair Andrew McEvoy said the Adelaide-headquartered business would look to build on KBRG’s “strong and growing position in the Australian tourism market”.

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