Issues and trends
Travelbulletin’s Q&A with Helloworld CEO Andrew Burnes last month made for interesting reading. He clearly has a vision for the business, something not immediately apparent under his predecessor, and is certainly bullish about its potential. But then you’d expect nothing less. I had to chuckle though at Burnes’ assertion - some might call it spin - that Helloworld doesn’t need “turning around”, a phrase justifiably used in a question posed by this publication. Call me picky but I’d have thought any business with deepening financial losses - $1 million for the first six months of the year - needed turning around. Be that as it may, you knew where Burnes was coming from when he said the “hard yards” of the rebranding have been completed and now was the time to “reap the benefits” of that work. What particularly caught my attention was Burnes’ plan to launch more Helloworld product. His rationale is unclear but it’s a promise he has already delivered on with the launch of New Zealand and Pacific Islands product for Sunlover Holidays, a significant strategic shift for a brand synonymous with domestic breaks. But it’s a slightly curious move given those destinations are well catered for through Qantas Holidays and Viva! Holidays, and no doubt preferred partners of Helloworld. There is nothing wrong with a little internal competition of course, but there is surely a risk of cannibalising sales here. It remains to be seen what other product will emerge. But reports suggest it will be Helloworld-branded, raising the question of whether the company is eeying a more vertically integrated approach to its business. Flight Centre has become the master of keeping it in the family – the growth of Infinity Holidays is testament to that - and maybe Burnes is attempting to play Skroo Turner at his own game. Such a game, however, is far easier when you own the stores, as Flight Centre does. It can, and does, instruct consultants what to sell in a way Helloworld simply is unable to given the independent nature of its retail members. That said, if Helloworld’s fully branded, associate and affiliate members are truly buying into the brand at a retail level then widespread support for Helloworld-badged product may follow. Speaking of Flight Centre, Burnes was riled recently by his rivals’ attempt to lure agents to a new partnership program. Burnes’ description of Flight Centre in the travelbulletin interview as “our friendly competitors in Brisbane” was comical in its insincerity, and deliberately so I have no doubt. Frankly, it was good to see Helloworld come out swinging as Burnes did when he described the Flight Centre initiative as “disingenuous”. A more objective view might suggest it was a smart move by FLT to secure more sales. And that, after all, is what it’s all about.