IN BRIEF: news from March 2021

AFTA CEO departs abruptly

DARREN Rudd has resigned as CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents just nine months after taking the role, with the departure leaving many in the industry wondering “where to now?” for the travel agent representative organisation. The move, announced just before Easter, became effective immediately, with no explanation except to say it was for “personal reasons”.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect storm for AFTA, with Rudd’s disappearance coinciding exquisitely with the end of the JobKeeper wage supplement, right in the midst of negotiations over a new $130 million grant program and the annual renewal period for AFTA membership. Many members may be reluctant to stump up their annual dues which are of course necessary to keep the Federation’s doors open — not to mention that after more than a year of COVID-19 border closures the overall viability of the industry is facing an existential threat.

Rudd said he was “incredibly proud of what we have achieved together at AFTA,” including securing $258 million in tailored Federal support as well as ensuring the plight of agents was “understood at every level of Government”. His tenure also saw the strictures imposed by COVID-19 lead to a significant downsizing of the organisation and the loss of long-time experienced staff.

Tom Manwaring, the indefatigable AFTA Chairman and head of Express Travel Group, will take over as Interim Executive Chair, while “all Directors have been and will continue to be active in engaging with Government at all levels to maximise support for our members,” AFTA said in a statement announcing Rudd’s departure.

Viva axes flights

HELLOWORLD Travel’s Viva Holidays wholesale division has announced it will no longer sell flights effective from 1 May, with Executive Director Cinzia Burnes saying that with a myriad of rule changes, schedule changes, condition changes and “other changes writ large by the airlines over the last six months, the manual processes involved have become beyond time consuming and the double handling of flight issues between wholesale and retail has become unsustainable”.

Burnes noted that many of the wholesaler’s industry partners already book and issue flights via Helloworld’s in-house Air Tickets platform, promising that wholesale fares would be loaded onto that system for agents to use in conjunction with land bookings.

She also highlighted significant ongoing systems development, with the current Tango agent booking platform to be replaced before the end of the year and no air bookings integrated in the new system.

“The reality is that our strength and experience as a wholesaler is in the land arrangements and this is where we should be spending our consultants’ time…they should be dedicated to assist you in crafting the perfect holiday for your clients whether on land or water.” Burnes said.

“QantasKeeper” grants slammed

THE travel and tourism sector has been up in arms over the Federal Government’s controversial $1.2 billion tourism recovery funding package, which has been widely seen as benefiting airlines rather than providing stimulus for the overall sector.

In fact when the announcement was made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan — in a Qantas hangar no less — QF CEO Alan Joyce effusively noted that “it ticks all the boxes for us”.

As well as funding half-price airfares to a number of regional destinations — some of which, such as Broome, have no accommodation available — the package also provided “aviation support” which effectively means stood-down airline workers will continue to receive a weekly payment equivalent to the now-removed JobKeeper scheme for the wider economy.

Meanwhile QF’s Chief Customer Officer, Stephanie Tully, has confirmed that although the airline is confident that the planned 31 October resumption of international flying is achievable, the carrier is unlikely to reinstate routes where inbound passengers are required to quarantine.

Rex Canberra plans

Regional Express has highlighted its $150 million “war chest” as it goes head to head with Qantas on the popular Sydney-Canberra route — which has been monopolised by QF since the pullout of Virgin Australia when it went into voluntary administration a year ago.

Rex Deputy Chairman, John Sharp, announced the SYD-CBR services would launch with a bang, with initial frequencies of seven flights a day. “Rex’s affordable fares will greatly stimulate more business and leisure traffic between Sydney and the national capital as the industry continues to recover,” he said, noting that Qantas was routinely charging close to $1,000 one-way for the short sector.

ACCC vs Adventium

AN Investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into activities booking portal Website Travel has fizzled out, after it emerged that parent company Adventium had repaid $6.5 million in withheld payments to about 350 local tour operators mostly based in Queensland.

The probe was launched in April 2020, when Adventium announced that the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing it to hold back payments, in some cases for almost a year, to operators which had already provided travel services to consumers.

The ACCC noted that Adventium had also taken steps to avoid a similar situation occurring in the future, by ensuring that funds obtained from travel agents for payment to tour operators are held separately.

 

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