AFTA gets busy
July was a busy month for The Australian Federation of Travel Agents Limited (AFTA), with the National Travel Industry Awards (NTIA) opening nominations in the first week along with new award categories and a revised submission process, and the announcement of Singapore Airlines as a major sponsor (TD 04 Jul). Later in the month, AFTA announced the addition of a new category to the industry’s night of nights – “Most Outstanding Non-Branded Agency Group” (TD 18 Jul). The NTIAs weren’t the only big news for AFTA, with the peak body processing 800 membership renewals under the AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS) (TD 13 Jul). The big news came just a week later, when AFTA announced the re-branding of ATAS as the ‘Australian Travel Accreditation Scheme’ (TD 19 Jul), with CEO Dean Long explaining the change reflected the scheme being “much bigger than just travel agents”.
A bumper month for airlines
Airline expansion was a big theme throughout July, with several airlines announcing new partnerships and acquisitions. Virgin Australia was given the tick of approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to collaborate with United Airlines, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines (TD 08 Jul). The Australian carrier was granted a five-year authorisation for the codeshare pricing arrangements, allowing its international airline partners to set the fares for their services that Virgin markets and resells to consumers. Expansion was also on the cards for another Australian airline, with Regional Express (Rex) announcing the $48 million acquisition of Cobham Aviation’s National Jet Express (TD 15 Jul). The move significantly bolstered Rex’s presence in the fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) and freight sectors. Meanwhile, Star Alliance strengthened its commitment to seamless travel and sustainability by welcoming a new non-aviation partner as a member (TD 05 Jul). The addition of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn meant passengers of Star Alliance members could now book combined air and rail tickets in one transaction.
Link Travel gains traction
The new Link Travel Group, launched by Spencer Travel, Goldman Group and Flight Centre in May, made waves this month when it announced several new additions to its network. Victoria-based corporate travel agency Reho Travel joined the invitation-only agency group (TD 04 Jul), a move which it said gave it access to a bigger range of airfares as well as world-class technology, advanced booking channels and workflow enhancement tools. With no signs of slowing down, Link revealed the addition of three more members the next day – Platinum Travel Management and Entourage Travel Group in Melbourne, and Perth-based Mobilise Travel (TD 05 Jul). This coincided with news that Reho’s Karsten Horne and Platinum’s Andy Buerckner had been appointed to the Link Advisory Board, joining co-founders Penny Spencer, Anthony Goldman, and Dani Galloway of FCTG. The momentum carried on into September, with Travel Beyond and Eden Corporate Travel also becoming Link members (TD 06 Sep).
Personnel changes in cruise
The cruise industry experienced several personnel shifts in July, kicking off with former Norwegian Cruise Line executive Nicole Costantin’s return to the industry (CW 06 Jul). Costantin was appointed as Explora Journeys’ new Head of Sales APAC, 300 days ahead of the inaugural sailing of the cruise line’s first ship, Explora I. She joined the company from Flight Centre Travel Group, where she had been since January 2020. Later in the month, a restructure of Carnival Australia saw the departure of Tony Archbold, who was head of Holland America Line (HAL) and Seabourn Cruise Line in the Australian and New Zealand markets for 11 years (CW 18 Jul). Meanwhile, New Zealand cruise stalwart Jacqueline Unsworth was awarded a payout of three months wages plus more than NZD$40,000 in compensation in a landmark employment case against Helloworld Travel Limited (CW 20 Jul). Unsworth, who was inducted in the Cruise Lines International Association Hall of Fame in 2008, was Helloworld New Zealand’s Cruise Marketing Manager until she was made redundant in mid-2020 during the pandemic.
Luxury travel at the forefront
August proved to be an uplifting month for luxury travel agencies. Business was booming for Virtuoso, with sales figures well ahead of pre-pandemic levels and every indication the 2023 will likely be a record-breaking year for the group (TD 15 Aug). Taking advantage of the momentum, Virtuoso also announced the launch its first-ever consumer campaign to showcase how booking through a Virtuoso adviser can elevate the holiday experience. Not to mention, the third week of August marked the Virtuoso Travel Week, which brought together thousands of top luxury travel professionals and providers from around the world. Among those in attendance was Flight Centre Travel Group’s (FCTG) Travel Associates brand, which during the event revealed plans to grow its luxury footprint in the US and UK (TD 16 Aug).
Results are in for FY2021
Helloworld Travel released its annual results for the 12 months to 30 Jun, revealing it is back in the black with a $90 million full-year profit (TD 30 Aug). The company recorded a $175 million gain after selling its corporate operations to Corporate Travel Management late last year, which allowed it to pay off its $70 million debit. Webjet also returned to profitability, with its online travel agency operation continuing to grow its market share (TD 31 Aug). Meanwhile, Qantas, Rex and Flight Centre all recorded a loss for the financial year. The Flying Kangaroo announced a pre-tax full year loss of $1.19 billion, with net debt shrinking from over $6.4 billion to $3.9 billion at the end of FY22 (TD 24 Aug). Rex Airlines was also in the red, recording a $46 million loss for the year as a result of the lingering impact of COVID-19 and the rising cost of jet fuel (TD 25 Aug). Flight Centre Travel Group recouped some of its loss, which shrunk to $337.8 for FY21 – a significant reduction from $601.7 million the previous year.
Full speed ahead for Australian car hire
Business revved up this month for Australia’s hire car market, with Europcar gaining around 25% market share Down Under over the previous six months (TD 05 Aug). The news came after the company announced a raft of new and refurbished car rental sites across the country. The brand’s local chief Benoit Garel largely attributed the growth to bringing new franchise partner AUS Fleet Solutions on board in WA and went to reveal that a new car-sharing pilot program is set to be rolled out in Australia and New Zealand in 2023. It was also a good news month for car and campervan hire business, Jucy Rentals, who announced plans to make a $40 million investment to expand its fleet operations in Australia to meet growing demand (TD 09 Aug). The cash injection will see extra 1,000 rental vehicles added to the market, as well as several new Jucy locations around the country.
Troubled waters for two boutique cruise lines
August marked the collapse of Island Escape Cruises, with the New Zealand-based company placed into receivership not long after cancelling its Kimberley 2022 season at late notice (CW 25 Aug). The cruise line attracted a swirl of criticism on social media when it failed to answer calls and email enquiries regarding refunds for the cancelled sailings (CW 21 Jul). Around the same time, the company lost two of its senior staff, with both CEO Peter Bisset and director Christina Riisnes handing in their resignation. Up-and-coming cruise line Tradewind Voyages also experienced a challenging month after being forced to cancel all itineraries through until October 2023, due to sanctions placed on its Russian-based financier following the invasion of Ukraine (CW 30 Aug).
Virgin vs everyone else
Virgin Australia stole the spotlight for the month of September, starting with the launch of a new-and-improved booking platform (TD 02 Sep). The Aussie carrier undercut its rivals when it came to corporate airfares, consistently delivering prices that were around a third cheaper than Qantas, as well as lower than Rex Airlines, on Australia’s popular domestic capital city routes (TD 07 Sep). Continuing its upward trajectory, Virgin was granted formal approval from the ACCC to enter into codeshare pricing arrangements with international airline partners for five years (TD 09 Sep). The airline hit a roadblock the following week when it went up against Qantas in a battle for additional seats on the Indonesia route (TD 12 Sep), with both airlines arguing their cases to the ACCC (TD 28 Sep) – ultimately, Virgin was successful (TD 08 Nov). Meanwhile, the carrier launched a promotion encouraging loyalty members of rival airlines to make the “Switch-a-Roo” to its Velocity Frequent Flyer program, with the promise of fast-tracking travellers to Gold Status (TD 14 Sep). There were also rumours that Virgin was in talks with Air New Zealand regarding a possible merger as well as considering the purchase of Rex Airlines (TD 16 Sep).
Smooth sailing again for cruise in Aus
Australia embraced cruise again this month, with Tourism Australia entering into an agreement with the Australian Cruise Association (ACA) and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to entice high-yield cruise passengers to the country (TD 09 Sep). Australia’s cruise revival gained more traction when Disney Cruise Line announced it was bringing a series of ‘Disney Magic at Sea’ sailings to Australia next year (TD 12 Sep). The journeys aboard Disney Wonder will feature beloved characters from Disney, Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars, with departures available from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Auckland. Princess Cruises also announced a renewed focus on the Australian market upon launching the new Sun Princess, and said it was committed to building its capacity Down Under (TD 16 Sep). Cruise dollars poured into the country with the return of Carnival Cruise Line’s Splendor to Sydney, bringing with her over 3,000 international passengers (TD 30 Sep).
Major industry movements
There were a few industry shake-ups towards the end of the month, including the departure of Helloworld Travel’s General Manager of Air Tickets, Independent and Corporate Networks, David Padman, who had been with the company for 15 years (TD 26 Sep). Jetstar gained a new CEO, with Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully stepping up into the role to replace Gareth Evans (TD 26 Sep). Meanwhile, Ponant also made some big moves, announcing the appointment of Chris Hall as regional CEO across Asia-Pacific (TD 28 Sep). Hall had led APT Travel Group for more than two decades before departing his role late last year. Wrapping up the month with a bang, Journey Beyond announced CEO Chris Tallent as the head of a newly created “overnight division” created by the company’s new owners, Hornblower Group, with Tallent to now oversee US-based small ship operation, American Queen Voyages (TD 29 Sep).