Qantas has accused the head of Tourism Australia of trying to “unravel” the airline’s future plans, ending its 40-year partnership with the peak tourist body and suspending a $44 million three-year international marketing deal.
The airline claims the body’s chairman, ex-Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon, was part of a consortium that had bought a small stake in the national carrier and planned to alter the airline’s strategy, including the proposed partnership with Middle East carrier Emirates.
“The Qantas group has advised Tourism Australia that it is suspending future financial support due to a potential conflict of interest of the agency’s chairman,” a Qantas spokesman said in a statement.
“Qantas cannot continue to collaborate with an agency whose chairman is a member of a syndicate committed to unravelling Qantas structure and direction.”
But the spokesman said Qantas remained committed to supporting Australian tourism.
“Not one dollar will be removed from tourism marketing as a consequence of this decision,” he said. “Rather than providing this support through the federal agency, Qantas will instead look to do so through the states.”
The suspension includes both Qantas and Jetstar but the spokesman said that in order to avoid penalising the tourism industry it would not include key initiatives already underway, such as the Australian Tourism Exchange, a major industry event, in Sydney next April.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce wrote to federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson yesterday to tell him of the decision.
He also warned that Qantas would refuse to have any further dealings with Tourism Australia while Mr Dixon was chairman.
In the letter, Mr Joyce warned that if Tourism Australia implemented governance protocols to prevent the conflict of interest, the agency would be “cauterised” and thus “being of little utility to the Australian tourism industry, much less to Qantas”.
Tourism Australia’s most recent three-year memorandum of understanding with Qantas was due to end on June 30 next year.
Tourism executives said, however, that it was “a nonsense” that state tourism agencies could deal with a $44 million international marketing windfall.
Christopher Brown, director of Tourism Victoria and son of former federal tourism minister, John Brown said: “They (Joyce and Dixon) are two major players in Australian tourism and let’s hope this does not escalate.”
Meanwhile, Qantas’s former chief economist Tony Webber said that Mr Joyce had been good friends with Mr Dixon but that Qantas’s recent Emirates tie-up could have been a bone of contention.
”It’s obviously a deep seated falling out,” he said. “I don’t think Dixon was happy with the Emirates tie up, Dixon has been publicly denouncing Emirates and other Middle Eastern carriers for years.”
Tourism Australia will put out a statement later today. When contacted this morning, Mr Dixon declined to comment. Mr Ferguson’s office is yet to issue a statement.