New retail agency network Helloworld has made the extraordinary decision to close one of Australia’s most popular travel websites, BestFlights.com.au, after CEO Rob Gurney said last year it would be doing no such thing. In the process 40 staff have lost their jobs and Helloworld has dumped a profitable business with estimated turnover of AUD180 million and 2% market share.

What’s the thinking on this? No-one knows.

The decision has not been publicly explained and was quickly followed by the announcement of a CEO for the new flagship site, Helloworld.com.au, which is thin in terms of content and has no consumer traction whatsoever.

Both the industry and analysts have been questioning the decision.

“We think it is a strange move given the brand awareness, level of turnover and profitability of the site,” wrote Armina Soemino of JP Morgan.

“We see it as a major risk for the site to have abandoned this brand for an unproven one.

“We continue to see further adoption of the Helloworld brand as a major risk for the company.

“Furthermore, the clear staff distress and backlash seen in the media may impact the franchisee uptake of the Helloworld brand.”

Ms Soemino wrote that “staff were told multiple times that it intended to run the business in parallel to Helloworld”.

BestFlights.com.au and sister site BestCruises.com.au shut on Feb 1 and all direct traffic channelled to Helloworld.com.au.

Last July, Experian Hitwise ranked BestFlights.com.au as Australia’s 36th most popular site with an estimated 855,000 monthly visits.

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