Business travel is making a come-back

You couldn’t help but walk away from Illuminate’s 2021 virtual experience with a smile. If you weren’t laughing at the event’s MC and Australian General Manager of Corporate Traveller Tom Walley’s wisecracks, perhaps it was the final session when travel industry founder and Flight Centre Travel Group Managing Director Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner explained how he got the nickname ‘Skroo’ from his school days.

All jokes aside, the event was a feast of amazing insights, useful updates and lightbulb moments thanks to guest speakers including Olympic gold medal swimmer Cate Campbell, Westpac Chief Economist Bill Evans and human behaviour specialist Dan Gregory.

Business owners, travel bookers and road warriors were probably also grinning after hearing a travel recovery is imminent.

The virtual event, hosted by Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate division, attracted around 1600 guests who tuned in from Australia and New Zealand to hear how and when the predicted recovery phase for the travel industry was expected to take off.

Short and sharp, the event featured keynote speakers, Q and As, panel discussions and audience polls, all artfully interspersed with music, entertainment, and prizes. Guests could explore a virtual partner showcase or network in a dedicated meeting hub.

Kicking off discussions was Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who dialled in from the boardroom in the airline’s head office in Sydney. Mr Joyce said Qantas had been working on getting as many staff back to work and aircraft back in the sky in line with government plans to reopen borders.

“We are planning to get back to 100% of the pre-COVID domestic schedule by January. That's great news for domestic tourism in Australia, for domestic business travel and great news for people wanting to visit family and friends over Christmas,” Mr Joyce said.

“Even on a route like Melbourne-Sydney, a big business route, we are currently down to one flight a day. This is coming from 55 flights per day before COVID. From November we’ll progressively go back to nearly 15 flights a day, by Christmas get back to 30-40 flights per day and by February we should be close to the pre-COVID schedule. They are all good moves in the right direction.”

The Irish-born CEO told James Kavanagh, who heads up Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate and leisure businesses in Australia that international routes would be brought back from 1 November, starting with London and Los Angeles and by end of the year Canada, Fiji, Singapore and Tokyo.

Mr Joyce’s optimistic outlook was echoed by Virgin Australia CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka who said the carrier had used the downtime during the pandemic as an opportunity to reassess its operation and prepare to meet customer demand.

“We used the opportunity to step back, reflect on who we are as an airline, who we serve, to completely transform our cost base and to make sure we’re focusing on the things we know matter to our customers such as value and choice,” Jayne said.   

Responsible travel and sustainability were also key themes throughout sessions. Representatives from both Accor and ANZ appeared in panel to talk about duty of care and what that meant for the travel and accommodation experience. Dan Gregory, global human behaviour specialist gave his perspectives on why face-to-face was so important for building trust, community and engagement. Olympic golden girl Cate Campbell opened-up to the audience about maintaining personal strength and resilience during the hard times.

Corporate Traveller General Manager, Tom Walley, said he was thrilled to hear how optimistic industry leaders were about the travel industry recovery.

“We know from our recent customer research that businesses are itching to get back in the sky, hold face-to-face meetings, meet with suppliers, so it’s great to hear that both our major airlines have concrete plans in place to kickstart flights and capacity,” Mr Walley said.

“Corporate Traveller will be ready and waiting to help customers with everything they need to navigate the road back to the new travel normal with our expert teams, resources and technology to ensure people can get back on the road with confidence and a mindset for business growth.”

Time to Fly? Definitely!