Weekly Wrap – 14th October

BRUCE PIPER wraps up the week that was.

Good morning everyone, well I’m back at my desk now after almost three weeks overseas – a cruise in Northern Europe courtesy of MSC, then a few intriguing and relaxing days in Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE, followed by a very exciting Formula One weekend in Qatar. As they say, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

But while the racing was going on in Qatar, hostilities erupted about 1700km away, which have understandably dominated the travel industry news cycle as the sector deals with yet another crisis. The attack on Israel, and the consequent retaliation, saw airlines cancel flights, cruises rerouted and tour operators scrambling to move their passengers to safety, while travel consultants at the same time swung into action to deal with all of the disruption for their customers. The Council of Australian Tour Operators noted its members suspended tours to Israel more than a day before the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published new travel advisories, while the Australian Government scrambled to organise Qantas charter flights to repatriate Australians from the danger zone. At this stage it seems the situation is only going to escalate, and our prayers are with all of the innocent victims of this unfolding tragedy.

Hundreds of Qantas staff have reportedly volunteered to help operate and organise the rescue flights, which will be a rare moment of positive news for the beleaguered carrier (even though of course the Government is paying for it all). This week the airline’s Chairman, Richard Goyder, finally saw the writing on the wall and announced plans for his retirement as well as a renewal plan for the Qantas Board, which is at last taking some accountability for the tatters remaining of the Flying Kangaroo’s once proud reputation. Goyder isn’t going just yet, but has undertaken to resign at some stage within the next 12 months or so and in the meantime help lead the search for a replacement. Other Qantas directors now find themselves facing re-election at the upcoming AGM early next month, with pundits speculating several may be carried out in a box. To that end it was fascinating to see Doug Parker, the former American Airlines chief who joined the QF board in May, put his money where his mouth is and spend about half a million dollars of his own money on Qantas shares this week – definitely aligning his interests with those of other shareholders.

Of course the Qantas imbroglios are inevitably tied up with the running sore of the Government’s rejection of additional aviation rights for rival Qatar Airways. This week the Senate enquiry into bilateral air services (and seemingly all other things aviation) handed down its report, calling for an immediate review of the QR decision as well as urging reforms to domestic aviation, the reinstatement of ACCC airline monitoring, more consumer protection to address delays and ineffective loyalty programs and slot management. Of course these are only recommendations, and while the committee’s hearings have provided plenty of media fodder the outcome is not binding and is likely to be just another blast of hot air from Canberra.

Also in aviation this week we saw Virgin Australia make public its financial results for 2022/23, with the overall outcome seeing it in the black for the first time in more than a decade. The foreign-owned privatised carrier made a $129 million statutory profit on $5 billion in revenue, with CEO Jayne Hrdlicka saying it was an important milestone that signalled the success of Virgin Australia’s ongoing transformation. You can be sure it’s also seen internally within the ranks of private equity owner Bain as a key step towards a planned public float of the carrier which is expected sometime during 2024.

There were several big staff movements in the industry this week, with Carly Povey, the front woman of Bonza, announcing her shock resignation as the fledgling carrier’s Chief Commercial Officer to pursue a new opportunity outside of aviation. Jaclyn Liebl-Cote was named as the new CEO of Collette, taking over from her father Dan Sullivan who is transitioning to become the tour operator’s Executive Chairman. Liebl-Cote is only the fourth CEO in the company’s 106-year history, and Collette’s first female leader. Another intriguing move was the appointment of Jarrod Zurvas to lead sales for Captain Cook Cruises Fiji less than six months after he took a similar role with Coral Expeditions. One suspects the opportunity to once again work in the small ship expedition sector, with Captain Cook Cruises’ upcoming new luxury vessel, was just too enticing to pass up.

That brings us to other cruise news, including confirmation that Uniworld Boutique River Cruises will add two new ships to its fleet over the next couple of years. Both of them are former Crystal Cruises 110-passenger newbuilds, and having been fortunate enough to experience one of them (Crystal Bach) in Europe when it was sailing for its original brand I can say these ships are absolutely spectacular. The collapse of Crystal about 18 months ago saw the fleet sold to a German hospitality group and relaunched as Riverside Luxury Cruises – from whom Uniworld is chartering both ships on a three-year basis, operating them as S.S. Victoria (from next year) and S.S. Elisabeth (from 2025).

Also in cruise this week we saw confirmation that Aussie small ship expedition operator True North will have a season in the Great Barrier Reef and the Solomon Islands next year, while Regent Seven Seas Cruises confirmed that an innovative new “co-marketing” program just launched in the USA is likely to also roll out in Australia and New Zealand in the coming months. And amid a swathe of hospitality news, the long-awaited opening of the brand new W Sydney also marks a “new milestone” for Marriott in the region.

I’ll leave it there, because I’m still feeling somewhat jetlagged – but looking forward to our team continuing to bring you all the travel and cruise news you can trust next week. Have a great weekend everyone.


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