We couldn’t start the roundup of the week without first calling out the heart-warming spectacle that was the first CLIA Awards to be held since the scourge of COVID-19 rocked the industry in early 2020. While many in the room at Luna Park in Sydney no doubt still bear the scars of the prolonged shutdown and numerous mainstream media hit pieces, the jubilant atmosphere proved to be fitting closure as stakeholders now firmly fix their collective eyes ahead on calmer waters. Close to 500 people gathered to celebrate the triumphant comeback, with just a few of the grinning winners on the night being Sheron Konig of Travel Associates Rockhampton, who was named Australia’s Cruise Consultant of the Year, Home Travel Company’s Robyn Sinfield snaring the Cruise Champion honour, and crowd favourite Bicton Travel awarded Australia’s Small Cruise Agency of the Year. And while I concede it reads like prejudiced reporting, it would be remiss of me not to mention the prestigious honour our Publisher Bruce Piper received on the night, admitting he was “speechless and gobsmacked” to be honoured with the Media Cruise Champion Award. I know I speak for everyone when I say very well-deserved mate!
But it can’t be all be great news for the cruise sector I’m afraid, and this week we reported on the ongoing issues cruise ships are still having gaining marine biosecurity clearance from New Zealand authorities to access the country’s waters. Close to 20 cruise ships have been turned away in recent times due to contaminated hulls, with NZ confirming this week it is working closely with cruise lines on better treatment methods. A whistleblower who got in touch with Cruise Weekly alleging potential falsification of some pre-arrival inspection reports have served to further muddy the waters, accusations that the NZ Ministry for Primary Industries was not able to confirm when put to it, however, the body did acknowledge some inadequacies with a portion of recent underwater inspection reports, stating that “inaccurate reporting, whether intentional or not, presents a risk to New Zealand’s marine environment”.
To brighter news now and the sleeping giant of travel appears to have taken its final whiff of the smelling salts, with China announcing the resumption of all visa categories this week after a long absence from the market. The response in Australia was immediate, with a number of outbound tour operators which offered explorations of China before the pandemic quick to communicate their intentions to bring back product as soon as possible. Among them was Wendy Wu Tours, a brand hit harder than most by China’s tough long-standing zero COVID policy, with founder Wendy Wu labelling the Chinese Government’s decision “a major milestone” for the travel and tourism sector.
AFTA was in the news again this week, namely for holding a successful sold-out Women in Travel Summit in Sydney. CEO Dean Long revealed at the event that the travel sector had much to be proud of already, with women holding 50% of senior executive positions in the industry, something he declared “a testament to the people in this room”. However, Long also tempered the sector’s achievements by stating the current numbers should only be the beginning of gender equality, with gatherings such as the one AFTA hosted this week serving as important forums to ensure the travel sector continues its current trajectory of progress. There was also an update in AFTA’s battle with Qantas and Emirates. The industry body slammed the carriers this week, accusing them of financially penalising travel intermediaries such as travel agents who elect to source inventory from channels that are not a carrier’s preferred path. The comments were published in discussion papers between AFTA and the ACCC, with the competition watchdog still weighing up a proposed alliance extension between Qantas and Emirates. AFTA noted that data detailed in the airlines’ application confirmed a combined market share to the UK of 52%, which AFTA argued “would allow the applicants to set prices amongst themselves and have strong coordination around distribution strategies”.
Meanwhile Flight Centre enjoyed a milestone week, announcing both the 1,000th member of its Independent division’s HOME platform, as well as a new tie-up between its BYOjet online division and tech platform SkyBuys. Under the latter deal, its customers will have access to the SkyBuys app when booking overseas travel, offering them a range of duty free and travel retail shopping opportunities, while the travel agency group‘s growing HOME membership base is testament to the ongoing focus and investment the company has injected into its Independent division.
Finishing off with some exciting aviation news, and Israeli carrier El Al has signed a Letter of Intent with the Victorian Government to operate direct services between Melbourne and Tel Aviv by June 2024, cementing earlier indications revealed exclusively by Travel Daily last year. The airline’s intention is to operate three services per week, which are expected to add around 44,000 seats to Melbourne each year, delivering an estimated $48 million annually. In further news, Qantas has resisted a call by consumer group CHOICE to scrap expiry dates for its COVID credits altogether, electing instead to extend the time its customers have to use them by 12 months. The company said customers for both Qantas and Jetstar will now have until 31 December 2024 to travel, however, bookings will still need to be made by 31 Dec 2023. Qantas also announced the expansion of its partnership with China Airlines this week, allowing its loyalty customers to use points to travel to more than 75 destinations around the world with the Taipei-based carrier. Frequent Flyers can now use accrued points to book Classic Flight Reward seats on all China Airlines flights, when previously they could only use points to travel between Australia and Taipei.
Well, it’s time to wipe the sweat from my brow after another busy week, I’m off to the beach to cool off!