ICYMI: top stories in travel February

New NRMA domestic strategy

Last month motoring group NRMA confirmed a switch in strategy, with an enhanced focus on growing domestic tourism behind the acquisition of holiday park operator Australian Tourist Park Management (ATPM). The organisations were already closely aligned, with ATPM managing four parks on behalf of the NRMA. The purchase sees the NRMA portfolio increase to 34 properties across Australia, including Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort and Ningaloo Reef Resort in Western Australia, which ATMP manages on behalf of RACWA.

NRMA said the purchase would complement its other domestic tourism investments such as Thrifty Car Rental, Travelodge Hotels and Canberra’s Kurrajong Hotel. “The driving holiday is an experience that all generations of Australians can relate to, and the breadth of holiday parks under ATPM management, combined with NRMA’s own portfolio, will ensure that this experience is accessible to thousands of Australian and international holidaymakers each year,” said NRMA executive general manager of travel and tourism, Paul Davies. He said the organisation was committed to delivering excellent regional accommodation, as well as boosting local jobs and economic activity.

Helloworld cruise boost

The acquisition of Cruise Marketing Group by Helloworld will see the company’s wholesale division expand, with HLO executive director Cinzia Burnes insisting the new businesses will complement the existing The Cruise Team wholesale operation. Cruise Marketing Group owners Fred Sparksman and John Simos will share just over $1 million in proceeds, along with Peter Topping, who owns just under 5% of Cruise Factory which was also part of the deal. Cruise Marketing Group’s brands include Seven Oceans Cruising and Cruise Abroad, as well as the Worldwide Cruise Centres network which comprises about 120 affiliated travel agencies across the country.

The Travel Corporation is certain to make hay from the announcement, with expectations the company will promote its Creative Cruising brand as “Australia’s only independent cruise wholesaler,” targeting Worldwide Cruise Centre members and other agents who don’t wish to buy through Helloworld. There’s speculation that Express Travel Group is also likely to switch allegiances, with Cruise Marketing Group currently powering its Express Cruise offering. However Burnes clearly believes the deal will be beneficial for Helloworld. “These companies bring a depth of management and an experienced pool of staff to the Helloworld business, and the existing management will continue to be involved going forward,” she promised.

Magellan keeps AJT land content

Tasmania’s Andrew Jones Travel is now part of Corporate Travel Management, with the $5.6 million acquisition of the business finalised early last month. Andrew Jones himself is remaining chairman of Magellan, the group he co-founded, and while the deal will certainly affect Magellan’s overall TTV, the impact will not be as great as it seemed at first glance because it has now been confirmed that Andrew Jones Travel will continue to participate in the Magellan land supply buying program. Magellan ceo Andrew Macfarlane said he was thrilled that the partnership with Andrew Jones Travel, as part of CTM, would continue. “I am very optimistic that we will continue to forge strong and mutually beneficial industry partnerships such as the one we have witth AJT and CTM,” he enthused.

And while Andrew Jones Travel is no longer a member of Magellan, Macfarlane stressed that the group’s growth trajectory was continuing. He flagged the addition of six new agencies in the coming months, with the first of those being former Helloworld member Maxim’s Travel, which specialises in the corporate market. Magellan Corporate national manager Scott Darlow said the addition of Maxim’s “further vindicates the decision we made to provide additional value-adds, services and support specifically to the corporate travel management sector”.

Qantas takes aim at SMEs

The Qantas Aquire loyalty program has morphed into the new Qantas Business Rewards scheme, as the carrier continued its strong focus on attracting corporate business. Under the revamped program there are three tiers of membership, and businesses can earn Qantas Points from the first dollar of spend. The scheme also formalises a discount structure, with top level member companies offered 8% off the base price of selected airfares, and 2% on some Red e-Deals. As with Aquire the program continues to offer earning with a range of land-based partners, including a new agreement with Jaguar Land Rover for vehicle purchases, as well as a fuel pact with Caltex.

Travel agents have been closely involved with the rollout of the new scheme, with the carrier conducting information webinars in conjunction with the launch, and some agencies offering value-adds such as bonus travel passes and Qantas Club membership for new top tier Qantas Business Rewards members. Qantas ceo Alan Joyce said the scheme was “another reason for businesses to choose Qantas, on top of the network reach, reliability and level of service we offer”.

Tigerair pulls out of Bali

Virgin Australia’s strategy to direct its low-cost Tigerair Australia offshoot to lower-yielding leisure routes hit a significant speed bump last month after a dispute with Indonesian authorities ultimately led to a decision to withdraw Tigerair from the Australia-Bali market. Announced with a fanfare about 18 months ago, the services involved rebranding existing Virgin Australia 737 aircraft, with Tigerair also utilising existing capacity allocations on the Indonesia route previously held by VA. The services operated from Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne to Bali — but a regulatory glitch saw the flights suddenly stalled in January as negotiations were undertaken regarding an issue with the Tigerair AOC.

At issue was apparently the status of the services as charters, rather than regular scheduled flights which restricted the sale of one-way tickets. According to Tigerair Australia, a regulatory solution proposed by Indonesian authorities would have taken at least six months to implement, and would compromise its ability to offer budget airfares to travellers. “Providing a reliable, low-cost service is critical for Tigerair Australia and our customers, and therefore our only option is to withdraw from Bali flying altogether,” concluded the carrier’s ceo Rob Sharp.

Marriott continues Australian focus

Marriott International is promising to shake up Melbourne’s hospitality scene, with the planned debut of its funky W Hotels brand in the Victorian capital in 2020. To be constructed as part of a mixed use development in Collins Street, the property will comprise 294 rooms and suites, along with 1,200 square metres of event and meeting space. It will be the second W Hotelin Australia after the forthcoming W Brisbane, which is also under development in Queensland and is earmarked for opening next year.

W Hotels Worldwide global brand leader Anthony Ingham said “Melbourne, with its vibrant music, emerging fashion and bold street art, is a destination made for the W brand. Located in the epicentre of the city, W Melbourne will embody the city’s creative spirit while showcasing the brand’s bold and energetic take on luxury,” he said. The new W Brisbane and Melbourne properties aren’t, however, the first time the brand has attempted to launch here, with the Ovolo Hotel in Sydney’s Woolloomoloo also originally operating as the W Sydney in the early 2000s before switching to the Taj Blue in 2006 and then becoming the Ovolo in 2014.

Streaming in the sky

Qantas is certainly confident about the bandwidth it will be able to offer customers through the National Broadband Network, with confirmation that in-flight content will be able to be streamed from suppliers such as Netflix, Foxtel and Spotify. The new system has already begun its rollout on its first domestic aircraft, with the remainder of the domestic 737 and A330 fleet to follow from the middle of the year. The “Sky Muster” satellite service, which is powering the offering, is claimed to offer speeds up to ten times faster than conventional in-flight wi-fi via 101 “spot beams” across the country.

Under partnerships announced last month free access will be offered to Qantas customers by the various services, with Foxtel providing three days of free access to its app every time a customer flies. Netflix will offer its customary 30-day trial to new customers, while existing members will be able to log in to continue watching at no additional charge. And Spotify is also giving a 30-day free trial of its ad-free Premium service to Qantas passengers. An in-flight web portal will also provide real-time flight data; hotel, restaurant and transport options; the latest weather; and “personalised information linked to your itinerary and Frequent Flyer account”.

Norwegian Star loses power

Norwegian Cruise Line experienced a bout of unfortunate publicity last month when its Norwegian Star experienced propulsion problems while cruising in Australian waters.

The ship was en route from Melbourne on a trans-Tasman cruise when it lost power — but fortunately for passengers all on-board systems continued operating, and they could continue to enjoy the shipboard amenities. The ship was towed about 30km back to Melbourne for repairs, meaning the itinerary missed a number of New Zealand calls, and once seaworthy again Star set off directly for Auckland to resume its next voyage.

Most of those on board took the incident in their stride — and welcomed Norwegian’s generous offer of a 100% credit on the current voyage plus a 50% discount on a future booking. The line also offered flight credits for those who wanted to leave from Melbourne.