Weekly wrap – 2nd September

Associate Editor MYLES STEDMAN wraps the week in the travel industry.

QANTAS Airways may soon be giving back a slice of its $1.74 billion profit after the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) this week launched legal action against the airline, alleging it advertised flights it had already cancelled.

The ACCC opened action against Qantas in the Federal Court of Australia this week, alleging the airline engaged in false, misleading, or deceptive conduct, by advertising tickets for more than 8,000 flights it had not removed from sale. Qantas kept selling the tickets on its website for an average of more than two weeks, and in some cases for up to 47 days, the ACCC alleges, after the cancellation of the flights which were originally scheduled to depart between May and June 2022. It is also purported Qantas did not notify ticketholders for more than 10,000 flights which had been cancelled, for an average of about 18 days, and in some cases for up to 48 days.

ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb told Radio National yesterday morning Qantas should pay a more than $250 million fine if the case against it succeeds. “We consider that this should be a record penalty for that conduct,” she said, with the current top fine a $125 million penalty charged to Volkswagen in 2019. Such a penalty would be a clear way “to deter conduct of this nature” and scare companies that would consider doing the same, Cass-Gottlieb believes, suggesting businesses are “not sufficiently” scared of the ACCC’s bite.

In better news, Flight Centre reported a record profit turnaround this week, as travel demand surges, reporting a $22 billion TTV and $70 million in profit, versus the $378 million it lost last year. Sales more than doubled company-wide, with both leisure and corporate operations delivering more than $10 billion in annual TTV for the first time. Managing Director Graham Turner said the $485 million profit turnaround exceeded initial expectations, as the Flight Centre recovered from the removal of “unprecedented restrictions” imposed on travellers during the COVID-19 pandemic. “After an incredibly challenging period, we are pleased to report material profit and sales uplifts, in improved conditions during FY23, leading to stronger shareholder returns,” he said.

The travel agency trade was kind to Helloworld too, which also surged back into profit, with its $19.2 million figure a turnaround from last year’s $28.8 million full-year loss. TTV increased 138% to $2.57 billion, while revenue soared to $165.9 million, with the company forecasting ongoing growth including underlying EBITDA guidance of $64 million-$72 million for the 2023/24 financial year. “Following the most challenging time in the travel industry, Helloworld has gone from strength to strength, delivering multiple profit upgrades and continuing to support our network members and customers,” Chief Executive Officer Andrew Burnes said.

Online travel agencies were not left out of the demand surge either, with Webjet’s group bookings, TTV, revenue, and EBITDA all ahead of pre-pandemic volumes for the second half of the 2023 fiscal year. Just over $2.2 billion in TTV was posted, ahead of the $1.9 billion recorded in 2019, while there was also a healthy 3.8 million bookings for the latest period, a solid gain on the 2.95 million taken during the same period in 2019. The WebBeds division was a major contributor to momentum, outperforming the market and showing signs of continued acceleration into the next financial period.

Hoping to service some of the Australian travel demand is United Kingdom-based escorting tour operator Titan Travel, which launched locally this week through the new Ascend Travel Group. Titan is part of the Saga Travel Group, and will offer a new dedicated brochure featuring more than 100 itineraries to destinations including Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa, in addition to being the first client for the new Australian representation company. The tourer will also enable travel advisors to package a Titan escorted itinerary alongside their own travel product and flights as part of a tailor-made holiday.

Finally, I was lucky enough to attend this year’s Australian Cruise Association (ACA) Conference this week, which took place in Wollongong. Spirits were high among guests, as well as locals, with the Wollongong cruise & travel trade out to prove it can service heightened cruise demand, as the Port Authority of New South Wales considers a site for the third Sydney terminal. It was also announced next year’s conference will be held in Adelaide, in recognition of another city which has committed strongly to the cruise industry since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you to the ACA for hosting us again, and I look forward to continue our coverage of the conference in travelBulletin, Cruise Weekly, and Travel Daily next week; but first, I think we all need a weekend to rest!

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