Flight Centre introduces new Captain as new era of global travel begins

'The Captain' has long been an icon for the Flight Centre brand and to some degree the wider travel industry in New Zealand since he first appeared in 1982.

The face of the Flight Centre captain has only changed a few times since then, most recently being an actor who was in the role since 2014 - but with a new era of travel beginning, the travel retailer decided it was time to put a new captain in the cockpit.

Tom Walley has been with Flight Centre for 19 years and before that trained as a commercial pilot. The events of 9/11 meant he had to find a way to reinvent himself, much like the travel industry as a whole.

He's the general manager of Corporate Traveller and Flight Centre Business Travel Australia, based at Flight Centre HQ in Brisbane - but it wasn't his skills in the cockpit that got him the role as the face of Flight Centre.

"Flight Centre ran a talent search internally to find all of the faces that you'll now see in our marketing, and I threw my hat in the ring and was lucky enough to be selected as our worldwide captain. It's an honour to take on the role," Walley told Newshub.

"The captain carries a feeling of comfort, familiarity and security - lots of our customers think of the captain synonymously with Flight Centre so it's a big deal to change his face, and to get a bit cheekier with our look too.

"Since 2014 we've actually had an actor holding the spot, but this is the first time we've had someone from our own business. We have so much fun working in Flight Centre, and we wanted to reflect that to our customers." 

The new captain has taken up his role at a critical time, with the trans-Tasman travel bubble opening up just days ago.

Walley landed in New Zealand on day one of the quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia.

"It's been over a year since we've been able to travel abroad, so it's very exciting to finally be able to come over and visit New Zealand and I know Kiwis are feeling equally excited. It's a much needed boost for our local tourism operators in both countries too," he said.

"The majority of the initial bookings have come from those visiting loved ones, and it's been great being a part of reuniting people. This will be a great chance to show that we can effectively and safely open more borders too."

Walley said likely future travel bubble locations includes the Pacific Islands, Singapore and Taiwan, with quarantine-free travel to places like the UK by Christmas, if the vaccine roll out is successful and with new introductions like vaccine passports. 

The Captain also said there's enough demand for Tasman and pacific cruises to take place this summer, but that they would of course need government approval.

Darren Wright, Global Head of Brand and Marketing at Flight Centre, also announced a new marketing strategy for the company.

As well as a new global face, Flight Centre has ditched its tagline 'best in the air and everywhere' in favour of 'experience our experience' - a move the company hopes highlights the travel background of its staff members.

"Between us we've quite literally been to every country in the world and hold thousands of years of travel experience. Now more than ever is the time to use that skill, expertise and trust that only a travel agent can deliver," Wright said.