Weekly Wrap – 27th August 2022

Live from Norwegian Prima's christening cruise in Iceland, Bruce Piper wraps up of some of the biggest stories in travel and tourism this week.

WELL what a week! I’m writing this in Reykjavik, Iceland where a group of Australian travel agents and media have just boarded NCL’s new Norwegian Prima. I travelled here via New York where I was fortunate enough to enjoy Broadway’s latest big hit, MJ – the Michael Jackson Musical which was just fantastic. But among all that travel the big news kept coming, so let’s get into it.

On the subject of New York, the new Qantas non-stop service from Auckland to the Big Apple is an aggressive move, essentially mimicking the successful strategy initiated by Air New Zealand under its respected former CEO Christopher Luxon (who incidentally now looks to be in with a shot to be NZ’s next Prime Minister). The new QF route, which will take passenger feeds from multiple Australian capital cities connecting through AKL, was announced alongside the carrier’s results for the year where Alan Joyce confirmed cumulative losses of $7 billion through the pandemic – despite billions of dollars in Government support.

The Qantas annual result was announced on a very busy Thursday morning, during which Flight Centre also released its figures. Despite a statutory headline loss of $378 million CEO Graham Turner was upbeat about the company’s turnaround amid surging demand – and interestingly also confirmed that Flight Centre has restarted its recruitment of novice travel consultants, attracting 4,500 applications each month. Clearly the Flight Centre machine continues to grind on, and in the current environment those new starters are already transacting more than pre-pandemic levels.

Turning to cruise, the seemingly inevitable demise of Island Escape Cruises came as little surprise, with the NZ-based small-ship operator having cancelled multiple departures during its current Kimberley season. Indeed to me the only eye-opener was that it took so long for secured creditors to drop the hammer. The receivers of the company, Calibre Partners, have confirmed that no refunds are likely to be forthcoming for passengers who were repeatedly assured that they would be repaid after their cruises were cancelled.

The collapse meant it was somewhat timely that significant changes to the Australian Travel Accreditation Scheme were also announced this week, following the delivery of a three-yearly independent review report. AFTA is working hard to educate the industry about the implications, launching an online series covering Public Liability and Professional Indemnity, requirements and changes to Financial Assessments, the revised Code of Conduct and Complaint Management and Terms & Conditions. The implementation of these changes will certainly elevate industry standards, but it’s going to be interesting to see whether there is resistance to some of the revised business practices from players who are quite happy with the status quo.

On the subject of AFTA, the release of the finalists for this year’s National Travel Industry Awards brought back happy memories of the annual pre-pandemic frenzy of lobbying and anticipation of the industry night of nights. Voting is now under way, while nominees in the judged categories are also set to be assessed in the coming weeks. There have been so many good stories of industry support through the pandemic and it’s great to have an opportunity to recognise some of them in this way.

And finally there was a similar excited buzz on Thursday when the cruise sector got together for the first post-pandemic CLIA Cruise360 conference. The sold-out event attracted more than 500 delegates, a packed trade show and an unprecedented level of excitement which was so great to see and such a contrast to the desperation of the last couple of years.

Speaking of an excited buzz, here in Iceland the anticipation is palpable as visitors from across the globe (not just California Girls) board NCL’s new ship – alongside godmother Katy Perry who will formally name Norwegian Prima tomorrow night. For many the thrill is the fulfilment of a Teenage Dream, and there’s certain to be a Roar of excitement as the Fireworks go off. I could go on, but amid groans from my industry colleagues on board I think I’ll leave it there…

Have a great weekend

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