ICYMI: top stories in June

In case you missed it, here's some of the top stories from June.

Queen’s Birthday honours

Last month’s Queen’s Birthday honours list was particularly notable for the inclusion of travel industry doyenne Anna Guillan, who was named as Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. Guillan, who is regional director of sales and marketing for Kerzner International, is a director of Tourism Australia and has long been associated with Hayman Island in the Whitsundays. She was also honoured for her long-running commitment to charity including co-founding the Nelune Foundation which has raised more than $18 million to help cancer patients since 2001.

Two Australian aviation leaders were also cited for their contribution in the Queen’s Birthday list, with Qantas ceo Alan Joyce receiving a Companion of the Order of Australia for “eminent service to the aviation transport industry” and outgoing Etihad chief James Hogan cited for “distinguished service to the aviation transport industry, to the development of tourism and trade linkages between Australia and the Gulf States, and to international airline associations”, receiving an AO. Finally Canberra tourism luminary and long-time Australian Tourism Awards judge Garry Watson received an AM for significant service to the tourism industry in the ACT.

EK/QF’s Tasman shuffle

Emirates surprised the industry in recent weeks by announcing the suspension of its long-running A380 flights between Sydney and Auckland. The change means EK will leave the superjumbo on the SYD tarmac each day after arriving from Dubai, rather than flying onwards to New Zealand. At the same time alliance partner Qantas is boosting operations on the route, with QF deploying its A330 international product between Sydney and Auckland. One of QF’s daily 737 flights will also be upgauged to an A330, with the revised schedule ensuring the airlines have the “right amount of capacity in the market to match demand”.

Emirates vice president Australasia, Barry Brown, told travelBulletin the changes showed EK and QF were using their anti-trust immunity authorisation to the maximum partnership benefit. Emirates’ recently introduced non-stop flights between Auckland and Dubai are meeting much of the need for travel to the Middle East and Europe from New Zealand, while the expanded Qantas schedule provides higher frequencies for trans-Tasman corporate travellers. Brown said previously changes had been discussed with QF, but at the time the carrier didn’t have sufficient wide-body availability to make the change.

British Airways flags GDS fee

British Airways is likely to face significant headwinds in the Australian market, with the proposed introduction of a new 9.50 (A$14) per sector fee for all bookings not made via the airline’s own websites or direct sales channels. The impost will be applied for bookings made from 01 November 2017, with the carrier promising to continue to work with GDS providers to distribute content to “valued agency partners”. The new fee will be automatically collected via a Q charge on ticketing, and will be visible as a distinct line item within the fare quote line on the ticket.

The carrier helpfully pointed out that the charge can be avoided by using an IATA New Distribution Capability (NDC) direct connect solution or a new BA Booking Portal — which doesn’t actually exist yet. AFTA CEO Jayson Westbury slammed the carrier for its approach, reminding the industry that the pending introduction of NDC is meant to be a partnership rather than a unilateral pronouncement. With travellers between Sydney and London currently able to access more than 50 airlines for their journey, it will be intriguing to see what the effect is on yields and loads aboard BA’s single daily flight on the route.

Qatar Airways under a cloud

Qatar Airways insists it’s business as usual for its operations from Australia, despite a major diplomatic rift between Qatar and its Middle Eastern neighbours which erupted last month. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have accused Qatar of supporting extremism and undermining regional unity, closing embassies and borders and banning overflights by Qatar Airways aircraft. All Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways flights to Doha have been suspended, and as travelBulletin went to print there appeared to be little likelihood of a swift resolution as the dispute rolled into its fourth week.

While QR says flights are operating normally, at the launch of its new non-stop Doha-Dublin route in mid-June a spokesperson admitted the overflight restrictions were resulting in longer flying times for the carrier’s long-haul services.

That will also impact fuel burn and profitability — not to mention the fact that the ongoing publicity around the stoush will certainly impact Australian consumer perceptions of the carrier which has significant operations from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. Qatar Airways is responding proactively, with a new video commercial proclaiming “no borders, only horizons” and urging that “travel is a right for all”.

One&Only, Hayman part ways

The industry was shocked last month when Travel Daily exclusively revealed the cessation of the partnership between Kerzner’s One&Only Hotels & Resorts and Hayman Island in the Whitsundays. The split came just three years after the resort relaunched under the One&Only brand following a stunning $80 million upgrade.

Hayman closed earlier this year after being smashed by Cyclone Debbie and is currently undergoing further refurbishment — but One&Only won’t be there for the planned reopening in mid-2018, with resort owner Mulpha Corporation confirming it would undertake a formal process to select a “qualified luxury operator to assume the future management of the island”.

Mulpha said it was disappointing to have to close the resort after achieving record trading, but the significant capital works planned would “once again position Hayman as one of the most prestigious luxury resort properties in the Australian market”. For its part One&Only said it remains committed to the Australian market, both via its long-term agreement to manage Emirates’ Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa west of the NSW Blue Mountains, as well as the ongoing growth of Australia and New Zealand as outbound markets to all of the group’s properties across the globe.

Crystal AirCruises repositions

The ambitious growth aspirations of Crystal Cruises appear to have taken a minor detour, with the cancellation of all trips planned for Crystal Skye, the company’s new luxury Boeing 777 aircraft, which will now be deployed to the “special interest charters” market in China. The plane has been chartered for an inaugural 10-day “Golden Week Holiday AirCruise” ex Hong Kong this September, managed by parent company Genting Hong Kong, and thereafter Crystal Skye will be “available for charters and other special interest AirCruises”.

Travellers booked on all previously scheduled Crystal AirCruises journeys in 2017 and 2018 will receive a full refund and a complimentary Crystal Ocean or River Cruise. Crystal president Edie Rodriguez said she was delighted about the deployment of Crystal Skye in the Asia-Pacific region, saying the charter option serves the vast luxury travel market in China and increases Crystal’s brand presence in the region. “As Crystal expands its portfolio of global travel experiences, the shift of Crystal Skye to special interest charters provides a distinct luxury option that is in great demand and is unmatched by any hotel, resort or cruise line in the world,” Rodriguez said.

Cartel case continues

There has been a further development in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s long-running case alleging collusion between airlines on cargo surcharges in the early 2000s, with the High Court of Australia finding that price fixing agreements entered into by Air New Zealand, Garuda Indonesia and other carriers breached Australian competition laws. A range of airlines including Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates have already paid a total of almost $100 million to settle the case, but Garuda and Air NZ lodged appeals based on whether the relevant market is “in Australia”.

The High Court dismissed the appeals, with ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court saying “How a market is defined, including considerations of whether conduct occurs in Australia, are critical issues to the understanding and interpretation of Australian competition law”. She said the judgement sends a “clear message that the ACCC is committed to pursuing cartel conduct that impacts on Australian business and consumers”. The cases against Air New Zealand and Garuda will now return to the Federal Court for a hearing which will consider any penalties to be levied against the airlines.

Departure cards depart

From this month travellers leaving Australian airports will no longer have to complete Outgoing Passenger Cards. The move has been mooted for some time following the roll-out of departure SmartGates, and just two weeks ago the Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed the cards would no longer be required effective 01 July 2017. Travel agents have been told to no longer provide the cards to passengers leaving from that date, and to remove all existing signage and stocks. Travellers must still report currency movements in excess of $10,000, the department advised.

The changes will also result in a significant revamp of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ monthly arrival and departure figures. The ABS confirmed that this month’s figures (to be released in September) will be collated based on incoming passengers and reported as “Short Term Visitor Arrivals” and “Short Term Resident Returns”. The changes will also see some details no longer available, including country of disembarkation and stay for departing travellers, permanent departures for Australian residents, and “main reason for journey”. An amended Incoming Passenger Card will be used to collect new data as an alternative to this information.

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