Major personnel movements
October saw some major personnel changes in the travel sector, headlined by former Contiki and Trafalgar MD Katrina Barry’s return to the sector by becoming a Board member at Webjet as a Non-Executive Director (TD 17 Oct). Barry’s surprise resignation from The Travel Corporation earlier in the year also saw her vacate her Chair on AFTA’s Board, but Barry said at the time of her return that she was looking forward to working with the Webjet Board and management during an exciting time of rebound. Meanwhile at Intrepid, Brett Mitchell returned to the role of Managing Director ANZ (TD 20 Oct) following the departure of Sarah Clark, who announced that she was moving back to her home state to take up a CEO role with Tourism Tasmania (TD Breaking News 19 Oct). Mitchell moved from his previous role as Chief Sales Officer, taking charge of the operator’s direct and industry sales and marketing strategies in Australia and New Zealand, in addition to leading the development of investment companies such as Haka, ANZ Tours, JOOB and CABN. The people changes in the sector also saw former Collette, Globus and Wendy Wu Tours executive Troy Ackerman appointed as AAT Kings’ new Head of Sales & Revenue (TD 04 Oct), while Journey Beyond Chief Revenue Officer Peter Egglestone confirmed during the same month his departure from the business after almost four years, stepping down to take a “well-earned break from corporate life” (TD 24 Oct).
The NTIA’s triumphant return
The month also hosted the travel sector getting back together for the highly-anticipated return of the National Travel Industry Awards (NTIAs) (TD 17 Oct). The massive, star-studded affair witnessed 1,200 people from across the country gather for a glittering ceremony in Sydney, with winners announced from across 30 categories, putting to bed a traumatic three years of absence due to the pandemic. High-profile agency winners on the leisure side included Flight Centre Travel Group for Most Outstanding Travel Agency Group, Travellers Choice for Most Outstanding Non-Branded Agency Group and TravelManagers Australia, which won the new Most Outstanding Mobile Advisor Network category. On the night, AFTA CEO Dean Long noted that the night would not have been able to happen without the generous support of sponsors who “helped AFTA realise our vision for this event”.
Aviation take’s off
In the world of aviation, Qantas projected in October that its 1H23 underlying profit before tax would be between $1.2billion and $1.3 billion, a significant milestone that heralded the carrier’s emergence from five consecutive halves of heavy losses due to the pandemic (TD 13 Oct). The forecast was based on forward bookings, fuel prices and the latest assumptions about the second quarter, with CEO Alan Joyce stating at the time that strong demand was continuing to drive the business forward to arrest cumulative statutory losses of $7 billion. Meanwhile, rival Rex Airlines also revealed that its domestic operations had swung back into profitability during the previous month, marking the first time it had done so since resuming operations in February (TD 24 Oct). Passenger numbers on the jet network were 16% higher for the first half of the month when compared to the previous, while revenue for the carrier had also increased 35% in October, a result achieved on just 13% more flying.
New player Bonza also joined the list of airline announcements by tweaking its ‘app-first’ approach to selling, revealing the launch of a travel agent portal for the first time (TD 27 Oct). Travel agents will be the only non-direct way for Australian travellers to book with the airline, with Chief Commercial Officer Carly Povey admitting that travel advisors occupy “a very important space in Australia’s sales system”.
“We fully understand some customers will prefer to book through a friendly and trusted face at a local travel agency and we want to support the travel trade community by investing in this portal,” she said. “The importance and value of local travel agents shouldn’t be understated, especially in recent times – after all, agents are often the heartbeat of a community,” she added.
New ship deployments
October saw even greater optimism about the prospect of new cruise ships entering local waters, with the newly opened Brisbane International Cruise Terminal, which is capable of hosting larger capacity ships, just one of the reasons for opening up the conversation to broader possibilities for many brands.
One of those in October Royal Caribbean International, whose VP APAC Gavin Smith told travelBulletin that its Oasis class ships could well be deployed in Australia – especially with initial plans to homeport some of its bigger ships in China being scuttled in recent years.
Meanwhile Ponant’s stellar commitment to the Aussie market rose to new heights, with news that its new expedition ship Le Jacques-
Cartier would make her Australian debut in 2024, joining Le Laperouse for the very first time in the country.
November marked a period of financial optimism for some of travel’s biggest brands, with Webjet and Flight Centre both posting encouraging financial updates. For Webjet, the figures looked so healthy that MD John Guscic boldly declared “we are back baby” during his presentation to shareholders (TD 17 Nov). The top line numbers for the six months to 30 September 2022 showed that overall group bookings for the company had returned to pre-pandemic levels, Total Transaction Value (TTV) had been restored to 90% of 2019 volumes, and group underlying EBITDA had also improved substantially to $72.5 million. The encouraging figures were driven largely by the continued success of the company’s WebBeds division, which was shown to be on track to exceed pre-pandemic profitability by the end of the current financial year. Meanwhile for Flight Centre, despite a concession that its revenue margin for the four months to 31 October had been adversely impacted by reduced front-end commission payments from some airlines, Flight Centre has been able to post some encouraging financial results for the four months to 31 October, headlined by a significant swing to EBITDA profitability of $61 million, up from a $137 million loss posted in the previous corresponding period (TD 14 Nov). Flight Centre also managed to grow its TTV to $6.8 billion during the period, an increase of 246%, while revenue saw a similar boost, increasing by 248% to $667 million. The leisure arm of the business alone increased six-fold to $3 billion, delivering an underlying EBITDA profit of $23 million.
The month also saw the announcement that future rounds of the National Travel Industry Awards (NTIA) will be guided by a newly-appointed NTIA Custodians team (TD 03 Nov), with AFTA revealing that five representatives will be selected from retail agencies, the corporate travel sector, online travel, tour operators/wholesalers and cruise/air suppliers. The NTIA Custodians will have an advisory role in the award categories, questions and overall judging process, with AFTA CEO Dean Long stating at the time that “as we continue bringing our industry together and strengthening our shared voice”. The decision to seek NTIA Custodians is “a key evolution” of the industry’s night of nights, Long added.
Traveller’s Choice celebrates
Independent travel agency network Travellers Choice held its first in-person meeting in three years in Melbourne, revealing that sales and bookings among its rebounding network were starting to look stronger every month over the last 12 months (TD 26 Nov, TD 28 Nov). A visibly emotional MD Christian Hunter took to the stage to deliver a stirring update to the group, declaring that TC’s weekly BSP figures were now averaging around 90% of our pre-COVID levels despite slightly fewer locations currently in action. At the same time, Hunter also revealed the company’s TC One online booking platform will soon incorporate touring options by the end of 2022 and fully-integrated cruise bookings from June next year (CW 28 Nov). Hunter said the updates to the platform represented “the next phase of the plan” to move to a fully integrated online, offline solution.
A new home for WoAG
Following consultation in August (TD 11 Aug), The Federal Department of Finance released the Request for Tender documents to engage a provider of Travel Management Services for the coveted Whole of Australian Government (WoAG) travel contract (TD 16 Nov). The new tender requires the successful travel management company to provide 24/7 customer service centre, booking services for simple and complex domestic and international air travel, car rental, accommodation and ground transport, as well as specialised booking services for charters, groups, “sensitive travellers” and “sensitive goods”. A wide range of domestic and international air and accommodation inventory must also be provided through multiple sources including GDS, NDC channels, direct connections with suppliers, aggregators and online travel agencies. The existing arrangements are held by the former Helloworld Travel Limited corporate division, now owned by Corporate Travel Management.
Big moves for airlines
Big new in aviation saw the launch of the world’s first credit card created by an airline alliance launched in the Australian market (TD 15 Nov), with Star Alliance partnering with HSBC Australia to offer the HSBC Star Alliance Credit Card. Australian travellers can earn Star Alliance points on their everyday credit card purchases, which can then be converted to miles or points in participating Star Alliance member carrier loyalty programs, which include Air Canada, Air New Zealand, EVA Air, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, THAI and UA. The credit card also offers Aussies the chance to fast-track to Star Alliance Gold Status in the first year when they spend $4,000 on eligible purchases, within 90 days of the card’s approval.
Meanwhile over at Qantas, November saw the carrier push to make Sustainable Aviation Fuel Coalition (SAF) more affordable through the introduction of a special coalition (TD 11 Nov). The carrier formed the new initiative with five foundation members, including Australia Post, Boston Consulting Group, KPMG Australia, Macquarie Group and Woodside Energy, who will pay a premium to reduce 900 tonnes of air carbon emissions annually, in doing so contributing to the cost of SAF in exchange of other reduction methods such as carbon offsets. Qantas said it would use the additional funding generated by the coalition to help cover the costs of up to 10 million litres of SAF sourced by the airline at London’s Heathrow Airport, which currently represents around 15% of the fuel needed to power flights departing London, and from 2025, a further 20 million litres each year sourced out of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Sticking with Qantas and in the same month it unloaded its $33 million stake in Helloworld (TD 09 Nov). Qantas Group CFO, Vanessa Hudson, said at the time that “now is the right time for us to exit as shareholders…as we’ve announced some major investments this year as we focus on what is core to the group going forward, including fleet renewal, growing our network and a successful expansion into the e-commerce holiday booking space with TripADeal”.
Meanwhile over at rival Virgin Australia’s HQ, the airline reinstated its codeshare agreement with Singapore Airlines, resuming VA codeshare flights to a range of destinations across the Singapore Airlines global network (TD 08 Nov). The agreement included cooperation to destinations such as London, Paris, Copenhagen, Seoul, Amsterdam, Ho Chi Minh City, while SQ continues to offer codeshare flights on 64 routes across the VA network – including the recently added Queenstown in New Zealand.
A brand new Dream for Disney
Disney Cruise Line picked up the incomplete Global Dream for an absolute song from the Meyer Werft shipbuilding company in Germany, concluding an unfortunate chapter which saw the vessel previously left abandoned by the now-defunct Dream Cruises brand. Disney will now work with the shipyard on the partially completed ship, which will be renamed, with certain features to be “reimagined”.
MSC Cruises’ newest flagship, MSC World Europa, was officially celebrated in an extravagant naming ceremony held at the brand-new Grand Cruise Terminal in November. The LNG-powered World Europa
has a host of sustainability features, and also forms part of the line’s commitment to spearhead more tourism in the Persian Gulf.
A month of aviation
It has been a very busy month already for Virgin Australia, with the carrier announcing its first ever year-round, daily Cairns-Tokyo (Haneda) service, adding more than 2,000 seats per week from 28 June 2023 (TD Breaking News 14 Dec). The new service aims to tap into the highly lucrative Japanese market and was launched in partnership with the Queensland Government and Cairns Airport through the Queensland Government’s Attracting Aviation Investment Fund. The route will both service pent-up demand for Japanese trips and help source high-value tourists to North Queensland, a region that has done it tougher than most during the pandemic. The news followed only a day after VA confirmed it had restored the ability for travel agents to self-manage refunds for their managed bookings (TD 13 Dec) – where fare rules permit. The reintroduction of GDS refund capabilities comes for the first time since the carrier entered voluntary administration, when GDS refunds were restricted to inhibit any Future Flight Credit (FFC) tickets from being refunded, in line with the terms of the voluntary administration.
Over at rival Qantas’ office, December has also been an active period, with the carrier lodging a joint application with Emirates to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), seeking to continue their extensive global cooperation for at least another five years (TD 07 Dec). The existing approval expires in March 2023, with the process of seeking re-authorisation from regulators now underway. Previously the airlines were granted approval to engage in the same conduct for a period of five years in both 2013 and then again in 2018. Meanwhile China Eastern Airlines and Qantas also requested an additional year’s authorisation to coordinate the re-start of their operations between Australia and mainland China until 31 March 2024. In January 2021, the ACCC granted a two-year reauthorisation of the pair’s Extended Joint Coordination Agreement, which expires on 31 January 2023. Qantas also resumed services to South Korea for the first time in almost 15 years, with the 11-hour flight to operating four times a week over the peak summer season.
Sticking with aviation and there was also a big boon for Perth in December, with Philippine Airlines revealing plans to launch Perth to Manila services from March 2023 (TD 08 Dec). The new direct flights will operate three times per week from 27 March. Perth Airport CEO Kevin Brown said that the new service would inject more than 52,000 seats into the market each year and assist in bringing in more Filipino students choose to study in Perth to help the education sector as well as our tourism and hospitality markets.
Industry hellos and goodbyes
In some sad news for the local market however, Finnair announced it had been forced to shut down its Australian office, a move that saw Regional Manager for Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, Arnaud Michelin, made redundant (TD 02 Dec). The decision was motivated by a global restructure of operations, with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia impacting its operations harder than most, as air space closures around the conflict has left some of the carrier’s long-haul less financially viable. Michelin took on the role just over four years ago, prior to which it was held by Geoff Stone for about six years.
Meanwhile Helloworld unveiled a new account management structure in December, with the new-look team headed up by Group General Manager Sales Steven Brady (TD 01 Dec). Among the changes were former Viva Holidays State Manager NSW/ACT, Darren Evans moving into the role of Regional Manager NSW/ACT/ QLD, while Mick Boylan returned to Helloworld to be the company’s new Regional Manager for VIC/ TAS/SA/WA/NT. The restructure was a key one for Helloworld, which has been itching to get its sales force back on the road and meeting with clients and suppliers. Further changes saw company stalwart Kim Knight become Account Manager Qld alongside Jackie Gordon, while Jake Hilbert is now looking after Account Management for Victoria, Robert Klingelholler took the WA/NT territories, and Paul Groundwater has been charged with managing South Australia and Tasmania.
In some worrying news for the Indonesian outbound travel market, December also saw the neighbouring Asian country announce they are preparing to pass new laws which will make sex outside of marriage illegal – including in popular tourist destinations such as Bali (TD 05 Dec). The so-called ‘bonk ban’ became a hot-button issue for the Australian travel industry back in 2019, which after protests in Indonesia and abroad, ultimately led to the government backing away from the tough set of laws. However, new proposals for the ban could see tourists face up to one year in jail if caught having sex outside of marriage, fuelling fears that it could disincentivise some Aussies from pushing ahead and planning holidays to Bali. On the plus side, the likelihood that prosecution will be brought against Aussies appear to be very low, given prosecution has to be alerted to authorities by local Indonesian families.
New role for Bowman
Finally, Andrew Bowman from the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) has been elected as Chair of the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAAA) (TD 05 Dec). Bowman, who is a Director of NZ Travel Brokers and Director and immediate Past President of TAANZ, was chosen for the global role at the WTAAA General Assembly which recently took place in Athens, Greece. WTAAA is the global voice of the travel agency community, advocating on behalf of its members while facilitating the exchange of ideas and information for the betterment of the community worldwide.
Bon voyage Mr Odell, hello new terrific trio!
Senior VP & MD APAC for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands, Steve Odell, announced his departure at the end of the year, bringing to a close a seven-year chapter at NCLH Odell, where he has been responsible for the strategic expansion of cursing in the pacific. The exit will see a restructure take place, with Caroline Smith appointed Managing Director, International for Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC), Lisa Pile expand her responsibilities to include the entire Asia Pacific region as VP Sales and GM APAC for RSSC, and Jason Worth step up to manage the entire Asia Pacific region as VP Sales and GM APAC for Oceania Cruises.
Meanwhile, Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) Cruise360 conference was revealed to be heading to Brisbane for the first time in 2023, a shift from the usual Sydney location spurred by Brisbane’s bourgeoning cruise sector. The Qld capital had previously been scheduled to host Cruise360 in 2020 ahead of the opening of the Brisbane International Cruise Terminal, but the event was cancelled in the early stages of the pandemic.
In further people moves, Explora Journeys, the new luxury cruise line from MSC Cruises, appointed former Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) sales chief Gillian Seller as its first Sales Manager in the Australia & New Zealand market. Seller reports to Head of Sales APAC Nicole Costantin, who was only appointed to her new role at the brand back in July.
Ambassador Cruise Line revealed to travelBulletin that the brand may consider committing a ship to Australia, fresh from opening a local office and announcing that its second ship Ambience will be cruising to Australia in 2023-2024. Newly-appointed Head of Sales & Marketing Dean Brazier said the cruise line was in the market for expansion opportunities, including a third vessel, which could be tabbed for local cruising, stating: “we are certainly looking to grow the fleet, and if and when they are able to do that…i’d say this is a market that they would be seriously looking at.”