IN BRIEF: news from June 2020 issue

DOMESTIC Aussie specialists

DOMESTIC Aussie specialists

Tourism Australia is supporting Australian travel agents as they pivot to the new normal, opening up the Aussie Specialists training program to local participants for the first time. Tourism Australia MD Phillipa Harrison said the initiative aimed to help agents sell Australian tourism experiences, and also to introduce domestic travellers to destinations and experiences with which they might be less familiar.

“Alongside the great work of the states and territories, the Aussie Specialist Program will equip frontline sellers with updated destination information and news to encourage Aussie travellers to explore the many great destinations and tourism experiences that Australia has to offer,” she said. “We know that Australians also spent almost $65 billion in overseas trips last year so if we are able to encourage them to spend some of their holiday dollars in Australian instead, it will really help our tourism industry on its road to recovery — and travel agents will have an important role to play in this,” Harrison added.

FCTG sells St Kilda

Flight Centre’s scramble to boost liquidity amid the travel demand downturn has seen it sell its Victorian office for $62.15 million. Operations will continue at the same location, however, under a lease-back deal for about 75% of the floor space.

The move was part of a frantic month of activity for Flight Centre, which also came under heavy fire for its refund and cancellation policy. Ultimately the company backflipped and confirmed it would waive all cancellation fees where third party suppliers had cancelled due to COVID-19.

Early last month the company also confirmed it was on target for significant cost reductions, with the massive store closure program and other cuts coming in at less than the $210 million in on-off costs originally anticipated.

Virgin shortlist

The administrators of Virgin Australia have put the pedal to the metal on the carrier’s sale, soliciting a shortlist of bidders which has now been whittled down to just two.

Bain Capital and Cyrus Capital Partners now have until 12 June to lodge final bids for the carrier, which was placed into administration in late April. The Bain bid involves former Jetstar CEO Jayne Hrdlicka, while Cyrus has an association with Virgin founder Richard Branson, having backed Virgin America and the 2019 Flybe takeover.

Deloitte is hoping to expedite the process which hopefully will see Virgin ramp up its flights, but any hold-ups could see the carrier liquidated as it’s understood the company’s cash is fast running out.

Fly365 directors face alleged fraud claims

The directors of collapsed OTA have been accused of transferring more than $5.5 million out of the company in its dying days, and are also facing a potential public examination to “gather evidence which may be used in subsequent civil and criminal proceedings”.

The formal Second Report to Creditors from Aston Chace Group also confirms the administrators have probed allegations the company manipulated airline booking classes to delay the issuance of tickets. ceased trading late in February, with the report estimating unsecured creditors worth almost $27 million including just under $18 million to the Commonwealth Bank, $3.1 million to Air Tickets and $2.6 million owed to about 1,000 clients.

Sabre, LH battle it out

The end of this month may see Lufthansa, Austrian, SWISS and Brussels Airlines flights no longer bookable via the Sabre GDS, with the technology firm confirming the termination of its existing agreements on 30 June.

The move is applicable in all markets, and is the latest move in an ongoing dispute between the airlines and Sabre over a range of issues including the controversial GDS surcharge being applied by Lufthansa Group carriers.

While things have escalated, both sides insist they are engaged in “amicable talks,” but Lufthansa also said it was “taking this opportunity to assess options to accelerate modern airline retailing”.

Bankruptcies spread

COVID-19 continues to claim victims within the travel landscape, with major players including Hertz, LATAM Airlines and Thai Airways all seeking bankrupty protection in recent weeks. Other carriers are surviving with the support of governments, including Lufthansa Group which in the last month received a 9 billion bailout, and Fiji Airways, whose CEO Andre Viljoen said government guarantees had enabled financing initiatives without which the carrier “would not survive”.

Singapore plans “green lanes”

Authorities in Singapore have confirmed plans to establish a range of bilateral agreements covering so-called “green lanes” which would facilitate short-term trips subject to comprehensive COVID-19 health and safety measures.

Talks are under way with Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, while Singapore has already sealed an agreement with China covering travel to and from six major cities. Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing said “reciprocal green lane arrangements mean there must be mutual assurance of each other’s test protocols and standards,” with the proposal aiming to eliminate the current need for 14-day mandatory quarantine at both ends of each journey.

AABH domestic pivot

INBOUND specialist operator Australia and Beyond Holidays (AABH) has received a strong travel trade response to its launch of domestic product. Led by former Qantas Holidays chief Simon Bernardi, AABH is offering packages as well as an online booking tool.

Bernardi said there was a great opportunity for agents to cash in on the domestic travel boom and potential trans-Tasman travel bubble — see


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