Travel industry boss Jayson Westbury was forced to listen back to his controversial comments about A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw in a tense interview that aired on the program last night.
The interview with Mr Westbury was filmed yesterday morning, hours before he stood down as the chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA).
At the time of the interview, Mr Westbury was still in his job and facing a storm of controversy after telling an industry webinar Grimshaw needed to be given a “firm uppercut or a slap across the face” over A Current Affair’s reporting of a refund scandal.
“I mean that virtually, of course. I wouldn’t want to invoke any violence on anyone,” he told Friday’s webinar. “But, I mean, some of the behaviour and some of the language that’s being used on that program is just outrageous.”
In the interview that aired last night, A Current Affair reporter Brady Halls played Mr Westbury a recording of his own comments, saying it was the “secret recording he didn’t know we had”.
“I unreservedly apologise for that statement,” Mr Westbury said after listening to the recording.
“That was a bad choice of words by me. It was a heightened time, there is a lot of member disgruntlement.
“I have extended my apologies to Ms Grimshaw directly through a note I have written to her that she’ll receive in the mail. I can do no more that apologise for those comments unreservedly.”
“Well, she hasn’t received that,” Halls told Mr Westbury. “You’re telling me you’re writing a letter to her.”
“I’ve sent her a card, yeah,” Mr Westbury replied, saying he didn’t have “direct access” to Grimshaw.
“You could ring,” Halls said.
Halls told Mr Westbury “no one in 2020 should speak about like that, especially a man about a woman”.
“We have enough problems with domestic violence in this country,” Halls said.
“I think the situation that we’re in – there is a lot of tension, there is a lot of frustration,” Mr Westbury replied.
Mr Westbury said it was a closed webinar for members, with about 100 people in attendance.
On last night’s program, Grimshaw explained the interview has been filmed before Mr Westbury stood down from his role.
“As CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents he was supposed to help (members) navigate the devastating effects of this COVID-19 pandemic and somehow address the scathing criticism from customers who now couldn’t travel and couldn’t get refunds,” Grimshaw said.
“Instead, he chose to shoot the messenger in a disturbing personal attack on me.”
Mr Westbury’s comments were made during a webinar that addressed how the travel industry was dealing with negative publicity during the coronavirus pandemic.
The travel industry has been hit hard by the crisis, with widespread travel bans forcing holiday-makers to cancel their plans and seek refunds.
But some customers have reported having trouble getting their money back, with travel agencies either refusing to pay up or offering only credit notes instead.
“We know travel agents are hurting. And while I’ve no doubt many individual operators are doing their best in terrible circumstances, industry-wide, the fallout has been badly handled,” Grimshaw said.
“Unfair cancellation fees, refusals to offer refunds, unreasonable delays to refunds and a failure to explain to customers why.
“His members deserved better representation, and the board obviously came to the same conclusion today,” she said.
In a statement on Wednesday, AFTA said: “While Mr Westbury stressed that his comments should not be taken literally and has apologised publicly and to Ms Grimshaw, he has also acknowledged that the comments were inappropriate and unacceptable in any circumstances, as well as being at odds with the views of AFTA and its member companies and agencies.”
AFTA chairman Tom Manwaring said: “His choice of words cannot be condoned. His work history stands in good stead for the service he has provided the travel industry and AFTA’s members.”
An interim CEO has been appointed while his replacement is sought.