QANTAS has announced plans to connect Melbourne and San Francisco with non-stop flights using its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, starting from 01 September. The new service will operate as an evening departure from Melbourne and an overnight flight on the return, flying four times weekly. Tickets officially went on sale last month. “We see strong demand for San Francisco, both from a tourism perspective and because of the business links between Melbourne and Silicon Valley,” newly appointed Qantas International chief Alison Webster said. “With connections to 17 codeshare destinations including Chicago, Seattle, and Vancouver, the new service also provides another gateway for Australians travelling into the US.”

The Victorian State Government welcomed news of the additional service. “Another direct flight to California means more visitors and greater business and trade opportunities for Victorians,” said Victoria’s Minister for Tourism and Major Events John Eren. The airline said it would recalibrate capacity needs by downsizing its current Melbourne to Los Angeles 787 flights from six to two services per week upon the launch of the new San Francisco service, though its daily Airbus A380 flights to LAX will be maintained.

TA’s social dominance

IF SOCIAL media presence is a direct measure of success then Tourism Australia believes it is in great shape, producing more followers and engagement than any other national tourism body. In the last 12 months, TA has managed to boost its social audience by more than 900,000 members, producing enviable totals across the three dominant social platforms of Facebook (7.9m), Instagram (2.8m) and Twitter (471,000).

Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steven Ciobo believes much of the recent success Tourism Australia has enjoyed in the social space is attributable to some savvy campaigns targeting youth travel such as the ‘Aussie News Today’ push. The $5m marketing offensive was curated by youth for youth and saw stories from across Australia shared into the news feeds of millions of young travellers around the world. “The youth market is critical to Australia’s tourism, representing a quarter of arrivals and almost half of all international visitor spend,” Minister Ciobo said. “Young travellers and working holidaymakers travel further, spend more per trip and stay longer than other travellers.”

Emirates ups London

EMIRATES has moved to take advantage of the growing business community north-east of London by announcing plans to launch a new daily route from Dubai (DXB) to London Stansted (STN) from 08 June, 2018. The technology and pharmaceutical hubs of Cambridge and Peterborough were the major drivers behind the airline’s decision, which involves deploying its new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on the route. Hong Kong, Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and Mumbai are among the most popular business destinations from the East of England, each of which Emirates serves daily through its UAE hub.

The latest decision brings Emirates’ services between Dubai and London to 10 departures daily, including its existing nine daily flights operating to Heathrow and Gatwick. “There is a clear demand for this service from both business and leisure travellers and we anticipate that this news will be warmly received both across our global network, as well as by the business community based in the Stansted catchment area,” said Emirates president Tim Clark. The addition of Stansted will give Emirates a total of seven UK destinations, with others including Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Glasgow.

Ovolo expansion

HONG Kong-based Ovolo Hotels has ramped up its Australian presence, in January acquiring two properties in Brisbane and Canberra to add to its modest collection of four sites in Sydney and Melbourne. The Emporium Hotel Fortitude Valley in Brisbane was an “obvious choice” for the brand, Ovolo Hotels founder and chief executive officer Girish Jhunjhnuwala said, citing the 102-room property’s “boutique nature and appealing location”. Settlement of the transaction is expected to be finalised in April, with a hotel rebrand slated for the same time. Last June, Ovolo took over the 50-room New Incholm Hotel & Suites, also in the Queensland capital, from AccorHotels’ which marketed the property under its MGallery by Sofitel brand, though it is yet to debut after an “Ovolo makeover”.

In the nation’s capital, Ovolo bought the 68-room Hotel Hotel, which overlooks Lake Burley Griffin, from Molongo Group. “We believe this venture is the perfect alignment and are delighted to be associated with this property,” Jhunjhnuwala remarked. Hotel Hotel and its and hatted Monster kitchen & bar will adopt a new identity under management by Ovolo effective 01 March. In mid-2014, Jhunjhnuwala outlined that expansion in Australia was part of the group’s long-term strategy.

Travel agent stole $24,000

A QUEENSLAND travel agent has been fined after taking more than $24,000 in payments from clients without ever booking the holidays she was paid for. Debra Lee Durrington, the former owner of Travel Experience Charters Towers, pleaded guilty at the Townsville Magistrates Court on five counts of wrongly accepting payment for flights and accommodation she failed to book or provide refunds for. Before Travel Experience Charters Towers ceased trading in August 2016, Durrington accepted payment from three affected consumers to book five holidays for themselves and their families including flights, accommodation, tours and car hire between November 2015 and July 2016.

Durrington failed to process the trips before the business ceased trading, with one consumer left $16,890 out of pocket for two holidays which weren’t booked. The families requested refunds from Durrington who assured them they would receive the money back, but they were never reimbursed. Fair Trading executive director Brian Bauer said traders who accepted payment with no intention of supplying goods had no place in the Queensland marketplace. Durrington was fined $10,000, ordered to repay the three affected consumers and a conviction was recorded.

Sofitel to Chadstone

ACCORHOTELS will further expand its Sofitel brand in Australia under a partnership with Vicinity Centres and Gandel Group, announcing it will operate the Chadstone Hotel Melbourne as an MGallery by Sofitel. The $130m new-build property will become the 10th MGallery hotel in Australia when it opens in 2019, with construction slated to commence in the first half of this year. Located in Chadstone’s retail, dining and entertainment precinct, the 250-room property will reach 13 storeys high and provide guests with two restaurants, a lounge bar, day spa, fitness and meeting facilities.

Simon McGrath, chief operating officer of AccorHotels Pacific, said the development would contribute to the evolution of the precinct. “Chadstone has become a destination in its own right with more than 500 stores across retail, entertainment and dining and having an internationally recognised hotel brand within the precinct, coupled with the strength of our loyalty and distribution platform will make for a powerful mix,” he said. “To now have a hotel in the city’s leading luxury retail hub is incredibly exciting and we look forward to the opportunities this will present our guests and our group.”

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