From the managing editor
Flight Centre’s launch last month of an unbranded “partnership initiative,” under which non-affiliated travel agents can have access to Flight Centre product, could mark yet another seismic shift in the Australian travel industry. Complementing the existing Escape Travel branded franchise offering, the new move “will allow agents from outside the company to take advantage of FLT’S buying power and access products and rates that haven’t previously been available,” enthused Flight Centre Australia general manager Melanie Waters-ryan. Clearly targeting the ongoing ructions at Helloworld, Waters-ryan said the new opportunity to become part of an unbranded buying group would “appeal to other chains, unaligned agents and agents who are linked to other networks but considering their future options”. The recruitment of former Helloworld/jtg veteran Danny Roche to oversee the new program is a master stroke, given his strong relationships with many existing Helloworld members and franchisees. However newly minted Helloworld ceo Andrew Burnes quickly responded, pointing out that the seemingly magnanimous gesture by Flight Centre to open up its range was a stark contrast to its efforts to close out anyone else’s products from their own retail distribution. “Not only has Flight Centre deliberately excluded several Helloworld wholesale businesses from being sold in their retail shops over the last few years, including Qantas Holidays and Sunlover Holidays, they actually financially penalise their consultants for selling these products,” Burnes fumed, adding: “I don’t believe other agents are going to be fooled into feeding the hand that bites them”. It should also be pointed out that this isn’t the first move by Flight Centre to offer its products to other groups, with Back-roads Touring and Topdeck Tours both majority owned by the company, but definitely targeting a wider distribution. And similarly Helloworld’s wholly-owned Insider Journeys (formerly Travel Indochina) makes pains to distance itself from its parent company as it seeks to appeal across the board. Given the controversy, it is very timely that this month we are pleased to feature the first in-depth interview with Andrew Burnes since he and wife Cinzia took the reins at Helloworld. With 40% of the company they have a huge vested interest in Helloworld’s success and we can’t wait to see what unfolds in the coming months.