IN BRIEF: October issue

HARRISON takes TA role

Tourism Australia has its first female leader, following the promotion last month of Philippa Harrison to become the organisation’s new Managing Director. Harrison, who has been acting in the role since the departure of John O’Sullivan to lead listed activities provider Experience Co Limited earlier this year, was one of a number of high profile travel and tourism sector applicants for the position.

She was previously Tourism Australia’s Executive General Manager International, a role in which she oversaw TA’s network of international offices across 12 countries as well as managing relationships with airlines and distribution channels. Tourism Australia Chairman, Bob East, said Harrison had been a “stand-out candidate…I am confident that Tourism Australia is in the best of hands”.

FCTG launches B2B operation

Last month’s launch of The Travel Junction by Flight Centre Travel Group will provide a new option for the wider travel industry to source product, as well as expand distribution options for the company’s wide array of suppliers. Headed up by James Whiting, the new venture “has been created to act as an intermediary linking travel sellers outside of the traditional Flight Centre retail brands to the product powerhouse of the global procurement business with direct contracts in hotels, tours, experiences and cruise,” according to a statement released by the company.

Whiting said the new brand would be the face of FCTG’s strategic move into the world of product accessibility for businesses outside of the group.

“The key focus is on minimising the current disadvantages seen within the market today and being caretakers for the end-to-end customer experience, from supplier to end traveller,” he said.

Vistara appoints Walshe

Indian carrier Vistara looks to have set its sights on the Australasian market, with the appointment of The Walshe Group as its local general sales agent last month. The move comes amid significant shifts within the Indian aviation sector following the recent demise of Jet Airways, which had previously operated an extensive codeshare partnership with Qantas, connecting through Singapore.

Vistara is a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Indian conglomerate Tata Group, and has ambitious growth plans, with an existing narrow-body fleet and six long-haul Boeing 787-9s on order. Walshe is in the process of recruiting sales and reservations teams, while Vistara has just launched its first international services, including daily flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Singapore.

BA strike disruption

British Airways was forced to ground almost all of its flights globally last month, as a bitter dispute with its pilots escalated into a 48 hour walkout. Members of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the industrial action, which saw about 1,700 flights cancelled, impacting the travel plans of 200,000 passengers.

Some estimates put the cost of the two-day disruption at more than 100 million, which the union noted was less than it would have cost the airline to accede to its 11.5% pay demands. BA noted that BALPA had not provided any detail about which pilots would strike, meaning it was unable to predict how many would come to work or which aircraft they were qualified to fly so it had “no option but to cancel nearly 100% of our flights”, including its BA15/16 London-Sydney services.

A further strike planned for 27 September was called off with about a week’s notice, with BALPA saying it was now “time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the brand”. Some might argue that is a vain hope.

Virgin to sack 750

Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah has continued making some difficult decisions, announcing a new, simplified management structure along with “rightsizing” of the airline’s workforce in the wake of yet another sizeable annual loss. Scurrah, who took over from John Borghetti in late March, had already shaken up things with the departure of Group Executive Rob Sharp in May, with these latest changes also seeing Tigerair CEO Merren McArthur leave the airline.

The new leadership arrangements integrate the corporate, operational and commercial functions of Virgin Australia Airlines, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines and Tigerair Australia into single functions and points of accountability. About 750 jobs will go in the restructure, “largely focused on corporate and head office positions,” Scurrah said, with targeted savings of $75 million per annum.

“Decisions which have a direct impact on people’s livelihoods are never made lightly, and I regret the need to reduce the size of our workforce so quickly,” he added, noting that once the program was complete the Virgin Australia Group would still be one of the largest employers in Brisbane. The changes include the appointment of senior Air Canada executive John MacLeod, who commences as Virgin Australia’s new Chief Commercial Officer early this month. Danielle Keighery has also been appointed as VA’s new Chief Experience Officer.

Down under Oasis-class?

Royal Caribbean appears to be significantly advanced in planning for the Australasian deployment of its largest cruise vessels — the gigantic Oasis of the Seas and its sister ships. During last month’s Australian Cruise Association conference in Geelong, RCCL’s Associate Vice President of Marine & Safety, Captain Nik Antalis dropped the heaviest of hints about the plans, including showing a map of all of the Oasis-ready ports across Australia and New Zealand.

Notably in Australia at this stage only Brisbane is ready for the behemoths, in contrast to a range of regional ports across NZ which have “heeded the advice of the cruise industry,” Antalis said. He noted that Hobart, Darwin and Fremantle could also become Oasis-ready with relatively minor infrastructure investments. “It’s only a matter of time,” he told delegates at the conference. Royal Caribbean will have six of these 360m-long ships in its fleet by 2023.

Deer sells all of Ignite

Ignite Travel founder Randall Deer will take a new “strategic product development role” within Flight Centre, which has purchased the remaining 51% of the business it didn’t already hold. Details of the price paid have not been made public at this stage, but the initial acquisition of 49% in 2016 cost Flight Centre $9.8 million.

Since then the business has grown its sales more than 40% each year to over $180 million during 2018/19, with the purchase set to see “full deployment and integration of Ignite’s product suite through FLT’s leisure network, beyond the recently launched ‘Flight Centre Exclusives’ product range to include its market-leading My Holiday Centre brands such as MyFiji, MyHawaii and MyCruises,” according to Flight Centre MD Graham Turner. “Full ownership of the business will allow for streamlined integration of Ignite’s innovative products and will deliver new offerings and choices for our customers.” Ignite’s Holiday Exclusives division also provides product to third parties including 7travel and flybuys.

Deer will also work with Flight Centre in a 50-50 joint venture to develop the Ignite model in a range of international markets.