Luxury travel operator Abercrombie & Kent has come off its strongest ever calendar year in 2019 in the Australian market, with a solid start to 2020 up until early January, when bushfires and the coronavirus unsurprisingly created some “headwinds” for the local business.
Speaking to media this week in Sydney, Abercrombie & Kent’s Head of Marketing for Australasia, Anthony O’Shea, said business from the local unit was up 16.5% year-on-year compared to 2018, which itself was a record result. Momentum from 2019 flowed into the first half of January, with some “fabulous bookings” generating the best ever booking month for this region.
O’Shea said the bushfires that ravaged Australia in the second half of January created “enormous challenges” for the inbound arm of A&K, with hundreds of North Americans and Europeans in the country at the time, some requiring evacuation from resorts including Southern Ocean Lodge.
He said the A&K team received several hundred phone calls from concerned travellers from North America who referred to misleading information and infographics which suggested the fires on maps were the size of the Australian Capital Territory, or were spread from as far north as the Kimberley to Wilsons Promontory on the southern coast line. Some of the “crazier things” that raised concerns for guests were not being able to see Fort Denison from their Sydney hotel room due to bushfire smoke.
“But we got most of those people here and they travelled through safely.”
The impact of coronavirus has been felt by Abercrombie & Kent in the past week, with O’Shea identifying the outbreak as the reason for a “softening” in sales here.
However, Abercrombie & Kent’s outbound business is “going gangbusters”. A tactical campaign to South Africa with partners Sanctuary Retreats resulted in “our strongest enquiry day ever on Monday”.
“Many of our clients, like us, have seen these kinds of headwinds before. They know that travelling with A&K that they’ll have their hands held and will be looked after, which is a point of strength for our business,” O’Shea said.
“Most people have seen these challenges before.”
Another lesser-known facet of A&K’s local business is its cruise handling operation – shore excursions, passenger turnarounds and the like. O’Shea said the rerouting of ships from Asia ports to Australia has been a “windfall” for the company.
“We’ve had to put on hundreds of more people to cater for the demand,” the A&K executive said.
O’Shea also said that Abercrombie & Kent has seen a pick up in interest for domestic travel this year, as the business joins Tourism Australia’s campaign to #holidayhere.
“The nice thing for A&K is that those holidaymakers are looking at domestic holidays as well as, rather than, instead of, their international travel plans”.