Minister Chris Hipkins has made it clear that the Government will not be taking any further decisons regarding the Consumer Travel Reimbursement Scheme.
The Travel Agents Association of new Zealand (TAANZ) has just circulated a letter from the Minister to Todd Muller, MP for Bay of Plenty. The letter also states that Government will 'not be providing any other direct support to travel agents at this time'.
TAANZ says it appreciates this will be a bitter pill for members to swallow.
International tourism showed signs of rebound in June and July 2021 as some destinations eased travel restrictions and the global vaccination rollout advanced in many parts of the world.
According to the latest edition of the United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer, an estimated 54 million tourists crossed international borders in July 2021, down 67% from the same month in 2019, but the strongest results since April 2020. This compares to an estimated 34 million international arrivals recorded in July 2020, though well below the 164 million figure recorded in 2019.
When will the border open, and when will clients start to book international travel?
Many countries are well ahead of us. According to a recent McKinsey and Company Report named ‘Rebooting customer experience to bring back the magic of travel’, North America is already back to 90% of 2019 travel figures.
As most travel and tourism businesses are in hibernation, they find it difficult to find staff. This situation presents an opportunity to move your business model from a high volume, low margin business to a lower volume higher margin business.
Spokespeople in the travel and tourism sectors say the recent Talbot Mills Research on lifting borders and on vaccination intentions contained definite positives for the industry.
Although media coverage emphasised that one in two New Zealanders do not want to see the borders open until 90% plus Kiwis were fully vaccinated, there were more encouraging details in the full picture.
The first stage of TripFactory NZ’s business is live and open for registrations.
The TF Hub is available for any broker or agent to join and requires a simple sign-up process before they are able to create fully integrated itineraries utilising a wide range of direct supplier connections.
One of the founders, Simon Mckearney, says the New Zealand travel industry needed efficient technology to get some of the people who have left the industry back into the game.
Exotic Holidays and sister company Visa Assist are seeing an increased thirst for knowledge from the trade, driven by the changing situation around the world and the hopes of borders slowly opening in the not too distant future.
Managing director Rahul Sharma says developments like the ‘sandbox’ in specific Thailand resort destinations, plus the ongoing opening of Europe are generating interest from agents and clients. This is coupled with stated intention from the New Zealand government that it intends to start reconnecting with the world next year and trialling self-isolation for a limited number of business travellers over the next couple of months.
The jury is out on whether limited models of opening up travel and tourism are going to work.
In the recent CAPA-Live sessions, director general of Asia-Pacific Airlines Association, Subhas Menon, said that where countries are thinking of opening up with models like the Sandbox in Phuket, Thailand and a four-category reopening strategy in Singapore, travel is not really picking up.
A lack of coordination between governments when it comes to vaccine acceptance, testing regimes and other health and safety factors could slow international travel recovery even further, speakers at this week’s CAPA – Centre for Aviation Live event said this week.
Subhas Menon, director general of Asia-Pacific Airlines Association, says many places only recognise the vaccine they use. Menon sees the acceptance of rapid-antigen testing as possibly providing a boost for travel, but again not all governments are ready to adopt this.
Stated changes to New Zealand’s MIQ system will not resolve the current level of inequity and are not being received well by the travel agent community and other business interests, according to the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ).
‘We have had a number of agents expressing disappointment and frustration at both the old system and the new random system. We are engaging with Business New Zealand, who are also frustrated and coming up with joint submissions on how it could work better,’ says TAANZ president Brent Thomas.
Business travellers are raising concerns about the reliance on screen-based interaction as their primary meeting method. They are also looking for control, ease and simplicity, according to a survey undertaken last month by travel management company BCD Travel of 738 business travelers worldwide.
With virtual meetings and remote work here to stay, business travel and face-to-face meetings remain extremely important. Seventy-six percent of respondents said business travel helps them work efficiently. In a post-pandemic travel environment, 60% prefer to return to
pre-pandemic levels of business travel, while 26% prefer to travel less and 9% to travel more.
The travel and tourism industries say the galvanising of the general public to take the jab is a silver lining in the grim reality of a Level 4 lockdown.
Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) president , Brent Thomas, says it is important to give credit where it’s due and acknowledge that the vaccination rate has picked up markedly.
‘From a travel industry point of view that means we will likely to be on target for the government to start opening the borders early next year as promised,’ says Thomas.
More than 80% of people support both domestic and international vaccine passports to open a return more rapidly to business travel, according to polling results released out of Australia by the corporate arms of Flight Centre Travel Group (FCM, Corporate Traveller, Flight Centre Business Travel, and Stage and Screen).
Over 1700 people across the LinkedIn channels of the four brands responded, with 80.75% in favour of a domestic and international vaccine passport, and less than 9% not in support of any passport initiative.
An accountant who specialises in the travel and tourism industries is urging agents and others in the trade to gain a good understanding of the recently announced Wages Subsidy and Resurgence Support Payment (RSP) even if at first glance they feel they may not qualify.
Paul Davies, director of OneTeam Chartered Accountants says if an agent’s actual or expected revenue is down by 40% or more due to the move to Alert Level 4 they can claim the wages subsidy for the two weeks commencing 17 August.
‘The comparison is either with a typical 14-day period in the six weeks prior to 17 August. It is important to note that if your business is seasonal (which most travel businesses are) you can compare with 17-30 August in 2020 or 2019,’ says Davies.
Although the term ‘revenge travel’– the urge to travel to make up for lost time in lockdown – has gained popularity globally over the course of the pandemic, a recent survey suggests Kiwi travellers are actually prioritising ‘reconnection travel – defined as reconnecting with the planet and its people – when they take their next adventure travel tour.
Creating a consumer awareness through media, marketing and supply channels with regards to the concerns for 2022 inventory, is one area of focus for the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand over the next few months.
Following a board meeting last Friday, TAANZ says this is important as many parts of the world are well advanced in their rebooking and travel planning.
Other areas of priority include:
A new B2B platform that connects agents and brokers directly to suppliers and allows them to quickly book product and formulate itineraries will soon be launched on the market.
Tripfactory Hub was founded by key members of the team that also launched Travel-Lab last year.
Brent Thomas, president of the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ), says the Government's Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World Forum, including announcements from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, had plenty of positives for travel agents.
‘We are definitely seeing a shift in terms of self isolation when retuning from low risk countries.’
Thomas says it was encouraging to hear Sir David Skegg, chair of the Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group, talking about borders opening when all New Zealanders have had the opportunity to be vaccinated as opposed to actually being vaccinated.
Inbound tour operators have expressed a desire to collaborate more with outbound travel agents when it comes to issues around the borders.
The subject was raised during the Tourism Export Council (TEC) NZ conference in New Plymouth recently and chair Scott Mehrtens, of Leisure Time Travel, says it is clear the two sectors can work together and learn from each other.
The Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) says that while accessing the balance of the Consumer Travel Reimbursement Scheme (CTRS) remains a focus, there are other pressing issues that have a longer-term impact on the health of the industry.
In a communication to members late last week, the TAANZ board pinpoints the challenges of the MIQ allocation system.
Along with this is a lack of any kind of government roadmap out of compulsory quarantine and border closures as the percentage of population being vaccinated increases.
The New Zealand suppliers group has ‘moved up a notch’ by voting to become a formal association and new chair Joe O’Sullivan says the entity will continue to put pressure on government over key issues.
O’Sullivan, of Cruise World, says the New Zealand Outbound Travel Suppliers Association (OTSA) is still (along with the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand – TAANZ) putting pressure on authorities to release the remaining funds in the Consumer Travel Reimbursement Scheme to where it needs to be.
New Zealand will trial home-based isolation in a tightly run pilot between October and December this year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Speaking at the Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World Forum this morning she also revealed plans to accelerate work towards a travel health declaration system that will be manual in the short term but will quickly move to a digital tool. There will also be work on developing rapid testing for Covid-19 at the border.
‘As the surge in Covid cases in Australia has led to multiple states enduring yet more lockdowns, the decision to suspend the trans Tasman travel bubble has resulted in New Zealand travel agents calling on the government to unveil a clear plan for reopening the borders.
‘The current suspension represents yet another blow to the travel industry on both sides of the Tasman, which had begun to harbour cautiously optimistic hopes for a gradual recovery after the challenges of the last 18 months,’ reports Travel Agents Association (TAANZ) president, Brent Thomas.
Having people deprived of leisure travel for a couple of years, combined with the changing needs of corporates, is likely to lead to increased demand for comfort in the air, says Keith Sumner, managing director of Gilpin Travel.
‘Some of my golf mates, for example, have had two of their golden years of travel stolen from them. A lot of people, like them, will want to travel in comfort when they can.’
Sumner and colleague Jamie Gray, sales manager at Gilpin Travel, appeared on The Travel Guys TV show with presenter Mike Hogan recently and discussed ongoing challenges, trends and predictions in the business travel sphere.
First Travel Group has brought GOPASS Global’s pre-travel risk assessment technology to its national network of 47 shareholding members and across its independent network.
Through the partnership, First Travel agencies have access to accurate and up-to-date information about Covid travel impacts from 35 global data sources, in near real time, so they can plan travel safely for their customers.
World Travellers says that while long haul travel, in reality, is several months away, its new business model means the group will be ‘stronger, smarter and ready to go’ when the world opens up again.
‘Our group of stores has only had one closure since the beginning of Covid, with our King Country store going into full hibernation until borders re-open,’ says World Travellers general manager Dave Nicholson.
‘The Cook Islands and Australia bubbles are providing a small amount of business and thus the green shoots which we have been looking for are now a reality. There is a new positivity throughout the members as they get a taste for once again assisting clients with their travel bookings.’
Five new Travel Industry Mentor Experience (TIME) NZ mentees were announced at a function in Auckland this week.
Dunedin-based Alexandra Hannagan, of Hannagan and Grieve Travel Associates, will be mentored by Lindy Christian, Our World. Hannagan is also the recipient of the inaugural Friends of TIME Scholarship.
First Travel Group has rebranded its consolidation unit First Fares to Express Tickets which will be available industry wide for new agencies. Express Tickets provides all fares and ticketing requirements 24/7 at competitive rates.
‘We have taken the Covid period to adapt to a changing market by providing our members with easy to use systems,’ First Travel Group CEO Malcolm MacLeod says.
Express Tickets has integrated into its operation the fares and ticketing technology, Aeronology, which FTG announced late last year. The software is expected to increase travel agent productivity with the ease of selling ancillary products at the time of booking.
By Paul Davies, Partner, OneTeam Chartered Accountants Ltd
Every crisis brings about changes. Hardship separates those who love what they do and are prepared to adapt from those who are locked in old methodologies.
The Cook Islands and (to a lesser extent) Australian bubbles have at least provided some green shoots in a challenging time and led to a change of attitude amongst brokers, says Steve Lee, director at NZ Travel Brokers.
A number of members have also found success in domestic travel, events and conferences – something they should not abandon when more borders open, Lee adds.
‘It’s a bit like only selling socks in a menswear shop, but at least our brokers are actually selling something instead of only handling credits and refunds.’
The travel industry can boost global recovery by addressing consumer trust gaps in price transparency, Covid-19 health and safety measures, data privacy and information credibility, according to research commissioned by Travelport.
‘The travel industry needs to sharpen its focus on trust’, says Greg Webb, chief executive officer at Travelport. ‘This study has shown, as an industry, we are not as trusted as we would like. The good news is that we now know what the issues are, and we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to hit reset, as countries reopen and travellers get back on airplanes. If we move quickly to address these issues, we can accelerate industry recovery as well as the modernisation of travel retailing.’
Travel agents and suppliers continue to call on the Government to allow them to access to what remains of a fund that has helped them recover hundreds of millions for Kiwis who have had travel cancelled due to Covid.
As part of the effort, the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) members have been sent a draft letter which they can amend to make relevant from their perspective and send to their local MP.
‘We are looking for support to have two small tweaks to the scheme approved –amend the start date back to 5 June and adjust the credit payment from 5% to 7.5% given the complexity and ongoing nature of credits),’ says Brent Thomas, TAANZ president.
First Travel Group (FTG) has launched a broker group. Independent Travel Advisors (ITA) increases FTG’s membership product and service portfolio and means ITA brokers can access First Travel’s technology and services, as well as provide an additional working model option for existing members, and new opportunities for experienced consultants outside First Travel.
Flight Centre New Zealand has announced that it will be consolidating the leadership and some support of its independent brands, including Travel Managers Group (TMG), and Flight Centre and Travel Associates brokers.
In a communication to brokers yesterday, David Coombes, managing director - New Zealand, Flight Centre said one of the changes will be the creation of a GM Independent Models role. This person will be responsible for protecting and growing revenues via the independent models, identifying and delivering on synergies and efficiencies, whilst maintaining the sovereignty of individual brands.
Getting clarity around the roll-out of vaccinations and what that will mean for future travel is the number one issue in terms of getting the industry here back on its feet, says Travel Agents’Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) president Brent Thomas.
‘What we have seen overseas is that borders open as vaccination numbers increase. There is more willingness to open up to vaccinated people and we see that as a guide to how New Zealand will come out of this.
Incentive organisers, luxury group operators and corporate travel agents have been updating themselves on high-end domestic opportunities at the MEETINGS 2021 exhibition this week.
As well as reporting growing movement by corporates looking to reward and motivate staff within New Zealand, they are reporting that group travel to Australia is continuing to gain traction (though bookings tend to be for travel a few weeks out at least).
The opening of the Cook Islands has also given agents dealing at the top end of the market a boost, they say.
Travel agents are seeing growing interest in travel to Queensland as winter starts to set in, says Travel Agents Association president Brent Thomas.
He says that travel to Australia in general is ‘building nicely’, despite setbacks like the current lockdown in Victoria.
‘We are worried about the situation in Victoria at the moment, but at this time of the year travel there is generally around business, VFR and special events.
The trans Tasman bubble, at this stage at least, is more useful as a trial run for opening up international borders than a significant generator of business, according to speakers at CAPA (Centre for Aviation) Live this week. Tom Manwaring, executive chairman of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) says surveys of the organisation’s 3000 agents indicate that things are ‘hardly moving’ on the tourism side.
‘The vast majority of travellers are going to stay with families and the economic impact of that is negligible. But it’s a good chance to get the processes right, do some fine tuning and work out what the next stage could be.’
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash says the border reopening to Australia has already made a huge difference to the tourism sector. However he is also aware that it is not a remedy to the pain of the last 12 months and says he knew initial movements would be mainly VFR.
‘It is essential that our top priority is keeping New Zealanders safe – keeping borders secure while opening safely as we have to Australia and Rarotonga, but also rolling out vaccination and ensuring it isdone by the end of the year.
‘Please do all you can to support your staff to make the right decisions around vaccinations. It might involve talking to them about the facts of vaccination and helping them through any vaccination hesitancy.’
Inbound tour operators have been specifically recognised at TRENZ Hui in Christchurch as part of the Tourism Communities Plan.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash says $14 million in existing loans from the 2020 Tourism Recovery Package will be able to be converted to grants for the sector. This means 26 ITOs may receive up to $500,000 each.
‘Inbound tour operators (ITOs) provide a vital link to global markets and need to be ready to facilitate the return of international visitors when it is safe to do so,’ says Nash
The tourism and travel sectors need to re-look at what ‘value’ really means and how it is defined, according to a panelist at the TRENZ Hui last week.
Strategist and researcher Carolyn Childs, who attended from Australia, says that when she came through the airport she noticed two people who ‘you literally couldn’t detach’.
‘They were hugging and crying. We need to think about that sort of thing when we consider value.’
The key to successfully restarting and growing trans-Tasman travel is to ensure that the standards expected by guests are met – and that there are contingency plans around health and safety challenges, says Melbourne based Peter Harding, managing director of Grand Pacific Tours.
Speaking at the TRENZ Hui in Christchurch late last week, Harding told delegates that getting people to travel with confidence, particularly in a group tour context, came down to not restarting too soon.
‘We’ve all got challenges when it comes to rebuilding and it is important to understand where everyone is at right now. We don’t want to give people an inferior experience.’
Travel agents are being urged to continue telling their stories so that they can be used to influence decision makers in government and bureaucracy.
Joe O’Sullivan, of Cruise World, recently took up the mantle to follow up on Shane Lust’s petition to government to have the wage subsidy extended for the travel industry. O’Sullivan says that when the petition for the wage subsidy extension was first presented there was no chance for a formal submission because the election got in the way.
The Travel Agents’ Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) has welcomed the announcement of a 19 April starting date for quarantine free travel across the Tasman as a ‘very important stepping stone and a great foundation for going forward.’
However president Brent Thomas reiterates that the opening of Australia is not a saviour in itself for the travel agents community and is looking forward to the opening up of the Pacific and then destinations beyond – especially as vaccination programmes around the world pick up pace.
Airline apps are among the key drivers in the digitisation of travel and need to be designed to allow for a seamless and frictionless customer experience, says Lance Batty, regional director, South Pacific at Amadeus.
‘The more that customers are able to do on their own device, the less physical contact is required in shared spaces – something which many customers will be averse to after at least a year of concern about virus transmission vectors and avoiding public spaces,’ he says.
Island resorts around the world are expected to lead the recovery in leisure travel, according to research carried out ahead of next month’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2021.
The research indicates that the Indian Ocean islands of the Maldives and the Seychelles are expecting a bumper Easter holiday period.
The Expedia TAAP Travel Agent Toolkit was launched in Australia and New Zealand this week.
Stu Udy who looks after TAAP here, says agents have been asking for help with marketing themselves to their local and broader community.
The Covid-19 pandemic has refocused IT spending priorities for airlines and airports in 2020 as revenue plunged and the industry faced new health and operational requirements needed to keep flying, according to SITA’s 2020 Air Transport IT Insights.
The sector has seen an accelerated investment in automated passenger processing focusing on touchless and mobile services. There is also a strong focus on virtual and remote IT services that allowed employees to work from home while ramping up communications with passengers.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), says most members and stakeholders (79%) would be ‘very comfortable’ or ‘comfortable’ travelling for business after receiving the Covid-19 vaccination. Almost half support mandatory testing prior to travel to ensure the safety of clients when meeting face-to-face.
The latest findings come from the 16th instalment of the coronavirus poll, conducted by GBTA since the onset of the pandemic to measure its impact on business travel.
Travel Advocates is running a webinar later this month aimed at industry personnel who may have lost their job or be looking for a change.
The ‘Your Future with Travel Advocates’ webinar will involve an interactive panel of travel industry professionals who will discuss opportunities to see if TravelAdvocates is the right fit for the webinar atttendees.
‘We are helping our personal travel managers navigate their way through the pandemic,’ says Travel Advocates’ general manager Mike Southcombe. ‘But we have been saddened to see the number of wonderful travel professionals who have become displaced through Covid-19. If anyone is looking for a new home for themselves and their clients in 2021 we would like to help them on the journey to recovery.
Trave Advoc ates is also happy to arrange private sessions.
Expedia Group is opening package travel rates to all of its travel agency community customers. Director retail distribution Stuart Udy, says this move recognises the impact of the Covid pandemic on agents.
Previously only silver and above level members had access to the discounts (around 20%) on products booked via the Expedia Travel Agent Affiliate Program (TAAP). Now all tiers will be included in the scheme, while those partners who had silver or above membership in 2020 will retain that level thorughout 2021.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) says that a full recovery of the sector globally to pre-pandemic levels is expected by 2025.
However, the association’s latest BTI Outlook study also predicts a 21% increase in business travel this year over the dire 2020 results – with most of the gain expected to come at the end of 2021 as vaccinations increase globally and consumer confidence returns.
After 28 years Andy and Suzanne Leighton are handing over the reins of tour company Travelwise Holidays Ltd to the team at Fuzion Travel.
The company has a tradition of boutique, fully escorted tours for mature travellers and the Leightons will be active in the business for some time while Andrew Parke and Stuart McKay get their feet ‘under the desk’ with the Travelwise crew over coming years.
Travel Agents’ Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) president Brent Thomas says that while the seemingly imminent opening of a travel corridor between the Cook Islands and New Zealand is positive (Air New Zealand’s website lists regular flights on the route from late March) the reality is that the Cooks alone are a very small segment of the market.
‘Australia, specifically the eastern seaboard, would be a significant life line for the whole supply chain.’