14,000 Flight Centre staff to be stood down ‘for years’


FLIGHT Centre could leave up to 14,000 staff stood down for years to come as a second wave of COVID-19 and ongoing international border closures continues to threaten the already decimated travel industry.

Queensland industry giant Flight Centre Travel Group has been hit harder than most companies through the pandemic - with 70 per cent of its workforce stood down and shares plunging from $39 to $11 in five months.

The company's active workforce has fallen from 20,000 to just 6000 workers, and Managing Director Graham 'Skroo' Turner expects it will be some time before they all return to work.

"It will be a long road ahead," he said.

"We've lost about 14,000 people, stood down."

Mr Turner hoped some workers would return within six months, but acknowledged it would be "nowhere near those 14,000".

"We've got a little bit of business coming back … but it will depend entirely on the government directives," he said.

"It's a bit hard to predict, but we want to bring back quite a few people when the demand is there."

Mr Turner believes international travel will be "pretty much back to normal" at the start of the 2023 financial year.

Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner in Brisbane. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner in Brisbane. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

The Queensland travel millionaire, whose personal Flight Centre share portfolio has taken a beating, believes the only real saviour for the travel industry is international flights.

"Once government restrictions are lifted I think we'll get back to 70 per cent of the former levels of travel in and out of Australia within a couple of years," he said.

Flight Centre's domestic bookings had spiked on news the Queensland border would open, but optimism took a "backward step" when Victoria's cases skyrocketed.

Mr Turner welcomed the reopening of the Queensland border, but said ongoing restrictions for Victorians meant the sunshine state continued to miss out on an "important domestic market".

"Sure there needs to be some suppression of infection so hospitals can cope, but I think we've got to learn to live with this virus, there could be a vaccine in a couple of years but that's going to be too late to save a lot of travel tourism and events business," he said.

He tips business travel will return despite the widespread take-up of video conferencing.

"It's very hard to make good long-term strategic decisions on a Zoom call," he said.

"There's nothing like a face-to-face meeting."

Mr Turner also confirmed that resurrected airline Virgin Australia was looking at moving into his company's South Bank tower.

He knows Virgin Managing Director Paul Scurrah quite well, but wouldn't confirm whether the airline's move was a done deal.

"It will make catching up a lot easier," Mr Turner said.

Originally published as 14,000 Flight Centre staff to be stood down 'for years'