entire travel group

KarryOn Leader Series: Brad McDonnell

Brad McDonnell

Managing Director

Entire Travel Group


What’s happening in your business and how does the forthcoming period look? 

We are enjoying exceptionally strong growth following the launch this year of our new business model, which is based around the concept of independent holiday packages. 

The idea is simple: we now offer exclusive, pre-designed holiday packages for independent travellers, with daily departures, rather than group tours with set departures. The packages offer outstanding value, and travel agents can book them 24/7 through our online platform. 

We also embarked on a period of rapid product development this year, adding almost a dozen new destinations. As well as generating new business, that’s helped us forge some exciting new partnerships with operators, DMCs and tourist offices. 

At the moment, like many travel businesses, we are focused on rebuilding our team. Luckily, we've been able to welcome back many former employees, and we've also brought onboard talented new individuals who are bringing invaluable experience, great connections and plenty of fresh ideas. 

All up, we have generated great post-pandemic momentum and I can only see that accelerating. 

What are you excited about right now? 

Adopting a new business model is not something you do lightly, but I’m excited at just how well the concept of independent holiday packages has been received. 

It’s also been gratifying to see agents embrace our booking platform. We made a major investment in the middle of the COVID pandemic to build the website because we wanted to make booking our packages as easy as possible for agents, who we knew would be working harder than ever once borders reopened. 

Are there trends you are seeing that are driving change in the business or the industry? 

As anticipated, post-pandemic we are seeing travel agents demand greater booking flexibility and a higher level of support than in the past. Agents are under-resourced, and many are working remotely, so it’s not surprising that they need their business partners to be there for them. 

Every travel business is also striving to become more adaptable and flexible in terms of how they operate. We are no exception – we recognised that border closures had left travellers and travel agents uncertain, so this year we introduced our Peace of Mind Booking Plan, which provides consumers with a 100% refund for any COVID-related pre-departure cancellation, but still guarantees the agent receives full commission. 

Another clear trend is the growth of the luxury travel segment. We've seen huge demand for luxury experiences because people need a holiday and they’ve got money, so they don't care about increase in prices.

What are the biggest challenges for travel? 

Our industry has had to deal with the consequences of our country keeping our borders closed for much longer than other nations. Being late to the post-pandemic party meant we faced – and continue to face – real difficulties securing capacity and availability at key resorts and destinations. As a result, we’ve had to work hard to sustain our relevance to suppliers, who were busy getting business from other markets. 

Another challenge is pricing, with reduced supply driving up rates, particularly of airfares. We've seen some extraordinary air fare prices and there's no doubt that’s impacting demand. 

Another challenge will be the country’s broader economic headwinds. At the moment, the rising cost of living doesn't seem to be dampening Australian’s appetite for travel, but it's anyone guess as to whether that will change once we see the initial pent-up demand pass. 

What about the biggest opportunities? 

Travel in 2022 has not been easy because of short lead times and limited availability. But that shortage of capacity and availability has generated a level of FOMO (fear of missing out). There is an opportunity for the industry to use that anxiety to get people to book further ahead, for travel in 2023 and beyond. A return to more stable booking patterns would be beneficial to the entire industry. 

There is also clearly an opportunity to grow the luxury segment, given more people are being exposed to high-end products. 

How important is leadership right now? What should leadership look like? 

Leadership is vitally important. As an industry we need to retain that sense of solidarity we developed during COVID, support each other and be cautiously optimistic because the war is not won. We all still need to be careful about how we operate our businesses, while working hard to restore confidence with suppliers, partners, staff and customers. 

For me personally, I think it’s important to lead with purpose. I like to think that as a company we are open and transparent in our communications, and that everyone in our team understands their role, and is aware of our challenges and opportunities. 

What would you like to see change? Or more of?

I’d definitely like to see more flights! And I’d like to see a little more understanding that the entire supply chain has resourcing issues, including wholesalers, hotels, DMCs, etc., so right now everything is going to take time. 

One thing I'd like to see less of is the expectation that we will be exactly the same business we were pre-pandemic. People need to understand that our industry has changed, in many ways for the better. For instance, we still get some travel agents lamenting the fact that we are no longer printing brochures, even though it clearly makes sense to embrace digital solutions that are more environmentally friendly. 

How key is collaboration in the industry? 

Collaboration has always been enormously important in the travel industry. 

In our case that collaboration extends beyond our local travel industry partners to include our global network of preferred suppliers. Those collaborative relationships – in some cases developed over many years – allow us to deliver more than 300 exclusive packages, confidently deliver on-ground support for our clients. 

Do you think enough emphasis is being placed on sustainability in travel and addressing the climate crisis? 

There is certainly an increasing emphasis on sustainability right across the travel industry, which is great, but clearly as an industry we have a long way to go. 

What are your personal learnings from the pandemic? 

I’ve learnt a lot about resilience. 

I’ve gained a better understanding of our partners’ businesses, and the same time realised just how little many travel agents understand about the complexities of our business. 

Thanks to my CATO board role, I also gained some insights into how state and federal government works, and just how cumbersome those processes can be. 

Most importantly, the pandemic reminded me of the value of relationships, particularly long-term relationships. We’ve used the same IT support, bank, accountant, etc., for many years, and those relationships, and the loyalty they have engendered, put us in strong position when the pandemic hit, and contributed to our survival plan. 

What is your message to the industry? 

Be patient. The whole supply chain has been impacted by the pandemic and it is going to take time for everyone to rebuild. We will get there, but set realistic expectations that for 2022 things are going to take longer to process. 

And just so I can write a bit about you in the intro, can you answer one or as many as you like of the following:

How did you get into the industry? 

I entered the travel industry in 2007 when I purchased French Travel Connection after seeing an ad in the Financial Review. Before that I had absolutely zero travel industry experience. 

What is it you love about the industry? 

The people, the wonderful products, and the opportunities to work in such a diverse, colourful and dynamic industry.

When experience matters