All posts by Chris Harrison


What’s going on in New Zealand?

backpackers, lodge, christchurch
backpackers lodge in Christchurch, NZ



A hugely popular Chinese reality show shot in New Zealand could be worth $80m of advertising, as 300 million Chinese watched the first series.  New Zealand has became the first international destination on the show with an episode following five celebrity fathers and their children on an adventure to mystery destinations. Filming has been carried out in the central North Island with Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand working together to create 200 minutes of the country’s landscapes, people and activities. The show would air in China later this month.


Jetstar has new international service between Wellington and Queenstown to the Gold Coast.  Tickets for the Wellington service will start at $179, and for Queenstown from $229. Grant Kerr of Jetstar New Zealand, said it was the first time in 10 years that a new airline had launched a year-round international service from Wellington and the first time in five years that an airline offered Wellington to Gold Coast flights.
Source: TIA


A new multimillion-dollar 300-bed backpackers in Bealey Avenue will help replace accommodation lost in the Christchurch earthquakes announced hospitality operator Max Bremner. Mr Bremner estimated the cost of the project at $7 million to $8m. “I am spending a lot of money – it’s going to be quite sexy by the end of it.” The two-storey lodge will have a mix of rooms from en-suites to bunkrooms, with nightly rates ranging from about $30 to $120. Amenities will include kitchen and lounge facilities, car and bus parking, and a swimming pool.

Construction starts next month and should be finished by June. He hoped the complex would boost the central city by replacing lost budget beds. Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism research shows 30 per cent of international visitors to Christchurch want backpacker accommodation. The city has 460 backpacker rooms, 41 per cent fewer than pre-quake, in 27 properties.

Available hostels in central Christchurch include YMCA and YHA sites plus smaller lodges. New ones in the pipeline include the 96-bed lodge in the proposed Hotel on Hereford, while another 200-bed backpack lodge is planned for the airport campus.  Great news for New Zealand’s budget accomodation sector


Written by Chris Harrison

AFTA’s new accreditation scheme

Jayson Westbury
AFTA CEO Jayson Westbury

The Byte caught up with Jayson Westbury, CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) yesterday and asked him some questions about the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) and the AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS).

Good morning Jayson and thank you for taking the time to meet The Byte today.
1.  Why isn’t ATAS compulsory for all travel intermediaries in Australia?
The Australian Government Ministers for Consumer Affairs formed the decision to de-regulate the travel agency industry in Australia. This means that there is no legislation remaining to mandate travel agents to hold accreditation. As such the ATAS scheme is voluntary, however AFTA believes strongly that for professional travel agents into the future ATAS is an important third party endorsement.



2.  What are the major differences between the old TCF and the new ATAS accreditation schemes?
ATAS and the TCF can not be compared in any way. ATAS is an industry-led professional endorsement scheme based on a range of industry specific criteria which gives consumers confidence that they are dealing with an appropriately qualified and professional company when booking travel. The TCF was a compensation scheme run by the State Governments under legislation that also required travel agents to hold a license, but it did not have any criteria other than a financial criteria. ATAS has additional criteria which elevates the standard for participation which ensures that consumers get an increased level of confidence when dealing with an ATAS accredited agent in a de-regulated industry.

3.  Why will ATAS be more sustainable?
In a de-regulated industry environment an industry-led accreditation scheme is paramount to ensure that professional standards are maintained. In tern this provides consumers with confidence to deal with those travel agents that have taken out accreditation, something that they don’t need to do. The scheme has been designed by industry, government and consumer group which ensures that all stakeholders have been involved.  It is a modern approach to the way travel is transacted in todays diverse distribution environment. It is flexible and able to be adapted if necessary. It will be funded by annual participation fees which will also allow for a significant marketing investment that will target Australian consumers and assist consumers in understanding why using an ATAS accredited agent is so important in a de-regulated environment. The previous national scheme did not advertise the benefits to consumers and as such only 3% of consumers were ever aware of the benefits (albeit limited) of the previous national scheme.

4.  Is AFTA membership and ATAS accreditation relevant for backpacker intermediaries? If so, how?
Yes absolutely. AFTA and ATAS is relevant for all distributors or travel intermediaries that transact business, regardless of sector or segment focus. Backpacker intermediaries would need to meet the set of established criteria like any other participant. They would then benefit from our ongoing marketing activity and importantly receive a third party endorsement from the leading travel association in Australia. The backpacker market has the ability to embrace this new scheme, which has been designed to be very affordable for the travel agent and will allow those who choose to become a part of the scheme to market that fact, giving backpackers a greater “peace of mind” when buying travel from the travel agent.

5.  What are the benefits of ATAS accreditation for travel intermediaries including travel agents in the youth sector?
ATAS accreditation will elevate travel industry standards, allow travel intermediaries to test their business credentials against the best in the industry, receive that third-party endorsement which consumers will put faith in as their knowledge and awareness of ATAS grows over time. ATAS accredited intermediaries will benefit from an ongoing, annual, national marketing campaign that will ultimately drive business to those that are accredited. It will also allow travel intermediaries in this sector to differentiate themselves to the consumer as a professional organisation which meets the criteria and standards.

6.  Travel agencies are closing their doors in our sector, with little protection for their consumers. What steps can be taken to stop this from happening? What are the benefits for consumers?
Intermediaries can access protection for themselves and their clients via a range of commercial solutions now available in the Australian market including travel insurance, insolvency insurance and trust account fidelity insurance protection. The benefits for consumers will be knowing that they are in safe hands, their money is protected and they are dealing with professional, reputable businesses.

For more information visit the AFTA

Interview by Chris Harrison

Have your say! Do you miss the TCF?  Is ATAS a viable alternative?  How is a member of AFTA and do you see/receive good value?

Topdeck now 90% owned by Flight Centre

Topdeck coachTravel company Flight Centre has defied predictions that bricks and mortar travel agencies could not survive the online onslaught by taking a majority stake in Topdeck. A deal that values the tour operator at a minimum of A$39 million (£22 million).

Flight Centre says it very cognisant of its need to remain relevant as it faces stiff competition from global travel sites like TripAdviser, Agoda and Expedia, which recently bought Australian travel booking site Wotif.

“We will have some small strategic acquisitions and some of these will focus on some sort of vertical integration focus, such as Buffalo Tours joint venture, they will be fairly capital light” said Graham Turner, Flight Centre CEO told ABC.

Also commenting on the changes, James Nathan, Topdeck Travel Managing Director said; “Our news today is that myself and the Flight Centre Travel Group have formed a joint venture partnership for Topdeck Travel in a similar vein to the joint venture we have with Back-Roads Touring Co”. Flight Centre’s 90% stake in Topdeck, aligns with their 67% of Back-Roads Touring, which offers a similar touring experience to travellers around the world. He added “Topdeck will continue to operate as a separate company and it will be business as usual”.

Messrs Turner and Nathan also have a lengthy history together, 11 years ago they (with others) bought Topdeck, plus through an investment vehicle Flight Centre already had a 20% stake. With Back-Roads as their example they intend to keep Topdeck rolling at arms length from ownership.

Finally, Turner says the outlook is positive, with Flight Centre in the right position to take advantage of what he calls the “new golden age of travel”.

Written by Chris Harrison

Sources: ABC and Topdeck

Approval received to leave iPhones and tablets on inflight

iphone, tabletUse of electronic devices for take-off have been approved by CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) for Virgin Australia and Qantas flights.

CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said technological advancements had allowed for the changes. “Aircraft are now designed and built with electromagnetic interference in mind,” he said.

CASA laid out assessment procedures for the devices, with Virgin Australia confirming that phones and tablets which weigh less than 1kg will be permitted at all stages of a flight as long as “flight mode” is selected. Which ought not be a concern for passengers as there is no network coverage inflight anyway.

Devices weighing more than 1kg will continue to be required to be stowed during take-off and landing, and passengers will be asked to pause use of the devices while the pre-flight safety briefing is under way.

Virgin’s approval applies to all of its domestic and short-haul international flights on Boeing 737, Embraer 190 and Airbus A330 aircraft. VA customers can also access the airline’s wi-fi entertainment system.

Virgin Head of Customer Service, Mark Hassell, said the change did not mean passengers need be worried about increased chattering on flights. “Voice is a problem for people. People don’t want passengers next to them talking throughout the flight. It’s something that over the years has not proved to be popular where that is offered overseas,” he said.

Qantas domestic and international will implement the changes on flights, while QantasLink and Jetstar are in the final stages of preparing their submission to CASA.VA flights to or from New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji are excluded.  Approval is needed from CAANZ (Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand).

Written by Chris Harrison

ATEC values the Backpacker Youth sector

Screen shot 2014-06-18 at 1.19.06 PMGiven the imminent departure of ATEC’s Industry Development Manager and key supporter of backpacker tourism (Jennifer Woodbridge) and the recent arrival of ATEC’s new MD – Peter Shelley, it is timely to ask Peter what his plans are in relation to this sector and its 25% of visitor arrivals to Australia.

Peter replied;
* ATEC values the Backpacker & Youth sector and remains committed to supporting its future growth.

* ATEC believes it is well equipped to continue its support of the Backpacker & Youth sector by assisting in formulating and promoting policy initiatives.

* ATEC’s preference is to focus on issues of policy which can deliver long term change and to transfer the events agenda to other providers.

This reply was made in writing to all BYTAP (Backpacker Youth Tourism Advisory Panel) members and again in person at yesterday’s quarterly meeting.

If you are interested in knowing more please feel free to log onto the panel page on ATEC’s website and call or email your state or category representative.