WA lad returns to steer Flight Centre revival

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Stephen ScourfieldThe West Australian
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Gareth Jarrett with his wife Anna and son Charlie in New York City.
Camera IconGareth Jarrett with his wife Anna and son Charlie in New York City. Credit: Supplied

From the hard work that’s gone into getting refunds for customers to Flight Centre’s restructuring, travel packages on sale now, and then glimpsing into the future, Gareth Jarrett has returned to WA to lead in a changing world.

And Flight Centre’s new regional sales manager for WA gives plenty of insight...

BOOKINGS & REFUNDS

When travellers pay for a holiday, they pay their money to the travel agent. The travel agent then pays, perhaps, an airline, transfer company, several hotels, a touring company and a cruise line.

When the holiday can’t be taken, we, as travellers just want our money back.

But the travel agent has to get it back from these many suppliers, each of which will have their own terms and conditions. And the travel agent again, of course, isn’t paid for any of this extra work.

“It has been a challenging time and over the last year we have really been advocating hard for our customers with our suppliers,” says Gareth.

“Unfortunately we can’t control each individual supplier’s timelines, but what we have been able to do is really utilise our strong relationship and make sure that Flight Centre customer refunds take precedence.”

From March until September last year, Flight Centre returned over 120,000 refunds. That’s over a $1 billion (correct, with a b) worth of refunds.

Indeed, we had partnered with Flight Centre for a West Travel Club tour of India, which was postponed and has now had to be cancelled, and they have negotiated to get back what was a non-refundable deposit for our readers.

Gareth says: “A customer sees it as one amount they have paid for a holiday, but the length the guys go to fighting for the customers is pretty inspiring — when you see what they actually do for the customers.

“We now have had a lot of customers coming in to us because they have had to sit on hold to an airline for five hours for six days in a row and they can’t imagine doing that again on another holiday.

“So I don’t think it’s been more relevant to book with an agent because that’s what we do in the back-end for you.

“It’s never been more complex to book a holiday, even within Australia.”

As the world reawakens in 2022, New Zealand, South Pacific and then maybe some countries in Asia are being slated to be first back on Australians’ travel agenda.

“But a lot is going to be determined by how other countries have gone with vaccinating the majority of their population,” says Gareth.

“This is where it’s going to be really important to know what you are actually booking ... to know that for $100 more you might be able to get a flexible rate or you’d be able to book something that you could cancel within 24 hours of departure. That’s the stuff that’s really important. Our agents will really help a customer to know what they are booking, and not just thinking that they’ve got something that’s refundable.

“Something changes (and we know that change is pretty constant) and they are struggling to try to work out what they have to do to get their money back or to rebook.”

But now is a good time to book for the future

“Right now the cruise companies are throwing everything they can to kickstart their industry. We have some great offerings — there is a good chance you won’t see deals like that for a long time.”

AUSTRALIA & WA

For years, we’ve all been travelling widely around the world. And it has been the volume of that international travel that has fuelled travel agencies.

Another challenge has been for them to come up with a diverse product range — so they still have something to offer customers; something to sell.

Gareth says that among WA’s Flight Centre’s focuses are road trips (“whether you want to drive your own car or hire a car or motorhome”), walking tours, island getaways, ski trips and country escapes.

An issue facing travellers within Australia generally and WA in particular this year will be availability.

“With so many people wanting to go on holiday, within Australia and within our State, the issue that a lot of people will have is with inventory and getting availability,” says Gareth.

“Sometimes people have their heart set on a particular place and there is no availability because they’ve left it too late. I think we’re going to see that this year. Availability is going to be a hard thing to lock down.

“Where we can really help is offering other options.

“Our agents will be able to offer great deals in those places, but also problem solve and say, ‘we’ve missed out on the accommodation in Broome because of the time you want to go, but we can offer something similar, have you thought about this?’”

Gareth Jarrett in Singapore with his wife Anna and son Charlie.
Camera IconGareth Jarrett in Singapore with his wife Anna and son Charlie. Credit: Supplied

WHO IS GARETH JARRETT?

Gareth Jarrett has worked in the travel industry with the Flight Centre Group for more than 13 years, first in a store, and then with their wholesaler company Infinity Holidays, packaging free independent package holidays. That gives him both front-office and back-office experience.

Hit by coronavirus, the business has had to restructure. “It has been a pretty challenging time for everyone,” Gareth says.

While some stores were closed to “reduce overlaps”, 95 per cent of Flight Centre’s customers still live within 5km of a retail store. There is a real emphasis on these flagship stores, Gareth says.

And there is a real emphasis on the human side of the business. Travel consultants generally love travel, and the Flight Centre crew see themselves as travellers helping travellers.

FAVOURITE CITY

Gareth has travelled to 44 countries and his favourite city is New York.

He says: “Before I was a travel agent, going to the US wasn’t high on my list. That’s one of the great things about travel — you really discover and get inspired by other people’s stories, and find that so many places have so much depth.

“New York is one of those places. I’ve been 10 times and every single time it is so different.

“And yes, you go and tick off those iconic sights — Central Park, Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building — but there is so much more. You’ll be walking down the street and all of a sudden there’s a Cuban food festival, or Michelin star restaurants are running a pop-up in one of the parks and you can buy street food from a three Michelin star restaurant for $5. It’s just so diverse and it’s just such an energetic city. It’s just amazing. I love New York.”

TRAVELLING WA

Gareth grew up here, but has been “over East” for a long time. “I like to call myself a faux West Australian.”

He’s come home to WA with his wife Anna and five-year-old son Charlie: “We are in full explore mode at the moment,” he says.

“We started off the year going down south to Esperance, Denmark and Busselton.

“The next trip that we are planning is to try to go up the Coral Coast to Exmouth, and just take our time, to really discover those little pockets along the way.

“We’d also like to get to the Northern Territory this year.”

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