The aviation sector was one of the first to be hit by border closures, yet the allure of 'travel bubbles' continues to give the entire industry – and prospective travellers hope. How are airlines adapting to keeping the skies and international trading routes open?
What myths do we need to dispel for clients and what new products and processes will they see when they return to the skies? We talk to two airlines uniquely placed to share insights into the next phase of air travel, with Qatar Airways being one of the few international carriers to operate continuously throughout the last 6 months, and Air New Zealand witnessing an impressive domestic rebound and customer demand driving new product innovation.
If you missed the session or would like a recap of the session check out our 5 takeaways below!
1. Over-communication is key
We took flight in this session welcoming representatives from Qatar Airways and Air New Zealand, Both of our speakers began by emphasising the importance of communication with their customers during this time.
Kathryn Robertson, Regional General Manager Australia of Air New Zealand, spoke about managing expectations and being clear with customers about what to expect right now, “we need to prepare them to not be alarmed when they see things that different to what they would usually see, like flight attendants wearing masks.”
Kathryn also discussed the importance of making customers aware of the cleaning protocols happening both in the air and in check-in areas, stating the changes Air New Zealand has made to ensure safety. These include no buffet areas in the lounges, instead, these have been replaced by pre-packaged food items, as well as keeping the middle seat free onboard and removing high contact areas such as the magazines and reducing food and beverage service.
“It’s almost a sense of over-communicating with our customers.”
VP of Pacific at Qatar Airways, Thomas Scruby, seconded the notion of over-communication, both with advisors and with customers, “it’s been about building those deeper and ongoing relationships.”
“We are overcommunicating with the trade and with the customers…If your customers need help, get in touch. We’re here to help you.”
2. What can/should travel advisors be doing?
Working collaboratively was the main point of discussion in response to this question. “The key thing we can do is continue to work together, but stronger together.” Says Kathryn, “We need to lean on each other, and we’re keen to grow these relationships. Get in touch with us because we’re here to provide those resources.”
Information and safety regulations are changing so often that it is quite difficult to keep up, Kathryn went on to explain, “it’s not just border openings, it’s also the health regulations for each different country you enter into. It’s all very confusing.”
She advised our audience to always be up to date with the latest travel information, “We’ve had some terrible experiences where customers have got stuck, so don’t just check once, keep checking up until the day of travel.”
The key thing that Kathryn shared on this point, was to reiterate to customers that it is safe to fly, and you’ve got more chance of catching COVID on your way to the airport, rather than catching it onboard and in airports, “you can see it evident with our crew, who continue to operate now.”
3. Will corporate travel rebound?
“What we’re seeing is the leisure market has rebounded way quicker than the corporate market.” Says Kathryn, which is to be expected with the state of corporate businesses moving online and hardly any corporate industries working in an office.
Thomas brought to light how the corporate travel rebound differs from sector to sector, “the mining and resource industries still require travel…there’s ebbs and flows amongst different industry types.”
It is estimated by the IATA that corporate travel will not return to pre-COVID levels for about 3-4 years, says Thomas.
“Chinese and Japanese domestic markets are flourishing and are not far off reaching the same levels now as they had last year…the markets have the capability to return.”
4. The future of flying
It’s hard to predict the future at any point, especially now when things are changing on a daily basis. However, both speakers discussed indications that have given Air New Zealand and Qatar Airways some predictions of what travel may look like in the future.
“I definitely think the destinations between New Zealand and Australia will be popular, now that the trans-Tasman bubble has been set,” says Kathryn, “There’s also opportunity in the premium long flights. People want a better experience and are keen to travel, I’m hoping that will play true not just domestically, but internationally as well.”
There is opportunity in crisis, with Thomas then highlighting how innovation and creativity are important factors that play into the future of air travel. “COVID gave us this new opportunity to look at things differently,” he says, “There’s going to be new markets that open up because of this and other markets that may not be around anymore – like senior citizens not travelling around as often.”
There is a constant evolution of re-forecasting with everything changing day by day, “We thought the border would be open now but that’s changed…we’ve got so many different scenarios that we are closely tracking,” says Kathryn.
Thomas added, “You’re gonna see large amounts of pent up demand, especially with family and friends wanting to see their loved ones.
“It’s really difficult to predict what’s going to happen – there will be particular pockets that may not travel as they used to before, but it won’t be too different in our opinion.”
Thomas brought forward a positive note which no doubt excited our audience members, “There are deeper relationships and partnerships being formed, which means new destinations to visit and more affordable opportunities.”
“Customers are wanting more flexibility,” says Kathryn, so a focus on that amongst airlines will see changes to processes and policies, “some solutions aren’t ideal right now but we are working together to get through some of these new things in this new world.”
It was evident that both speakers were enthusiastic that the aviation industry will bounce back, however, working together to do this is fundamental.
5. Working Closely with Government
Qatar Airways has had a really good relationship with governments this year, Thomas informed us, with the airline needing to work really closely with borders to fulfill their goal and focus of repatriation, “We made it our mission to bring people home safely.”
As the pandemic grew all over the world, Qatar “upped the amount of interaction with governments and embassies around the world” so that they could continue to operate at the essential capacity it’s customers needed to get home or provide essential travel.
“The main thing here is to support the trade, bring back students, and get the flow of the country back again and we are doing everything we can to support that.”
Kathryn spoke with the same sentiment, stating working groups in airports and airlines are collaborating with governments to establish safe travel zones and ensuring the flow of the airport works under increased safety measures.
The importance of safety in the air is also being worked on in a collaborative approach, with a lot of information from airlines feeding straight into the government.
“This only really works when New Zealand and Australia work together, it has to be reciprocal on both ends of the flight.”
Quentin Long, Co-founder, Australian Traveller Media
Kathryn Robertson, Regional General Manager Australia, Air New Zealand
Thomas Scruby, Vice President Pacific, Qatar Airways