He’s spent over a decade watching the industry evolve into what it is today, find out what Qatar Airways’ Country Manager for Australasia thinks of the state of the sector and its future.

1. How has the industry changed over a decade?

Qatar airways staff

Like anything you do for a decade, you’re bound to see it change. Whether that’s in the way you operate yourself, how the industry around you changes or perhaps more importantly, how the demands and expectations of travellers have evolved and what a company does to address these.

Since starting with Qatar Airways in 2008, the global airline industry has continued to grow rapidly which has meant that whilst the world’s leading airlines like Qatar Airways continue to see increased demand, there is also increasing competition from smaller airlines getting in on the act.

For example, since 2004 the airline industry has doubled from US$369 to around US$746 billion according to the Air Transport Association (IATA), however much of this growth is driven by low-cost carriers which now control some 25 percent of the worldwide market.

Based on this, the last decade has seen an increasing need for those in the industry to focus on not only the economic considerations of increasing the product offer whilst reducing overheads, but enhancing customer experience to ensure your airline is number one in what is a price driven, highly competitive market.

With the emergence of the Internet and the increasing transparency of the market, the industry has also transitioned to become customer-centric instead of airline-centric in the past, where customers didn’t have much control. Therefore airlines have learned to improve the level of their offering, become more responsive to customer needs and offering better prices and deals.

So, whilst these considerations have always been present, in 2015 there is a real need to ensure that you’re not only the best in terms of quality, but in terms of meeting customer expectations, remaining competitive regarding price, and ensuring that accessibility, time efficiency and choice are three areas your airline offers – and offers well.

 

2. What drives pax to book with an airline over others?

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I think the factor that ultimately gets passengers over the line is the quality and reputation of the service offered by the airline.

We know that factors such as cost also come into the equation, but at the end of the day, value for money is the most important to them, and the value for money is the ratio between price and what you get for it.

Australian travellers who are going on long-haul flights to destinations such as Europe also want to be comfortable – it’s a long journey and the last thing they want is to start off their holiday feeling tired and uncomfortable. The factors that play into this include comfortable economy class seats, or a premium business class offering, a wide selection of in-flight entertainment, the finest quality menu and options for people with specific dietary requirements, and attentive, hospitable service from the cabin crew.

Of course, it’s not just the in-flight service that is valued by passengers – the services offered on the ground are equally as important. For example, Qatar Airways offers a unique meet and greet service at Hamad International Airport (HIA) on request for all passengers, which can be a really helpful way to get to your connecting flight, particularly if you have a family and need assistance.

 

3. Do you think airfare is still a top priority when booking?

Qatar Airways feature

While the price of airfares are always a consideration, more than ever I think customers are also looking for the service and comfort, as many airlines are offering affordable flights these days, so they have to find another way to differentiate their offering.

Price aside, with there being an increase in business travellers and those travelling to see friends and relatives, there is a real importance on connection. Ensuring that passengers have multiple options to fly in and out of locations – with minimal transiting and reduced dwell time.

Qatar Airways prides itself on this offering, with direct flights from Doha to over 35 destinations in Europe, 53 in Asia, 21 in Africa, and 13 in North and South America. We know that passengers value having these routes opened up to them. Let’s take for example Edinburgh in the UK. Qatar Airways was the first airline to launch long-haul direct flights from the Middle East to the capital of Scotland, providing hundreds of Australians with Scottish ancestry a fast and convenient travelling option from Australia to Edinburgh via one stop in Doha. Customers would pay a premium for that.

 

4. Why did Qatar decide to step up its presence in Aus now?

Qatar Airways A350

We have been in the Australian market for six years now, with routes from Melbourne and Perth proving to be very popular – during this time we have seen a growing demand from Australian passengers for premium air services to Europe.

Australia also has a large European community, with many people returning to their home countries to visit their families and also to take advantage of the European summers during winter, so we saw an opportunity to offer more choice for Australian travellers.

Our two new destinations launching in 2016, Sydney and Adelaide, also have large traveller and European communities so we are looking forward to flying even more Australians to our 36 European destinations next year.

Australia aside, Qatar Airways has been adding between 8 to14 new destinations across the globe annually in order to cater to the significant growth in demand from travellers and open up the airways to those who travel frequently for business.

 

5. Qatar is competing with UAE carriers from Australia – how does the airline set itself apart?

Qatar business feature

As a brand, our main focus has always been providing the best service possible for our passengers. One of our distinguishing qualities is our dedication to being a five star airline and the first choice for passengers due to our premium offering. In fact, this year Qatar Airways was named 2015 Best Business Class Seat by Skytrax, as well as Skytrax Airline of the Year – and we are dedicated to upholding our reputation in these areas.

We also offer passengers a variety of choice when it comes to destinations, particularly if they are travelling onwards from Doha to Europe. For example, Qatar Airways flies to 36 destinations in Europe, including cities in Eastern Europe, which is not as well serviced by other major UAE carriers.

 

6. Do you think there’s enough demand from the local market on flight via the Middle East?

Doha, Qatar Crystal Cruises

I think that there is huge demand in Australia, given it is a nation of passionate travellers and people with European ancestry.

Many Australians also prefer to transit in the Middle East on their way to Europe because they prefer to do a longer first leg and get it out of the way, and benefit from a much shorter second leg to a European destination. For example, Doha to London is approximately six and a half hours, while Doha to Istanbul is only three hours.

What is also important to note, is that Qatar Airways has structured a number of key flights for business travellers which have minimal transit time – some routes as little as 45 minutes – meaning that those who travel regularly for work aren’t spending precious time waiting to connect to their onward journey.

 

7. What are your favourite destinations?

Tuscany

I have three places that I could go to any time, and always enjoy my time.

Tuscany, Italy. Tuscany is a real treat for those that want to combine an unforgettable culinary experience at any of the Tuscan vineyards, a culture and history lesson at the birthplace of the Renaissance – Florence, and sightseeing trips through the medieval villages and castles of Chinati region.

The second special place for me is Santorini, Greece, and in particular, Oia, a small village nestled on the rocks 150 meters above sea level. Oia is the most photographed place in Greece if not in the world. There is no better place in the world to relax, unwind and forget about our busy lives when you stay in one of Oia’s boutique hotels facing the ocean.

San Francisco, USA, is another great place to go. The city is packed with various activities, great food, and thriving art scene. Somehow, San Francisco reminds of Melbourne -it’s easy and friendly, and it has trams! San Francisco is also a great base for short out-of-town trips such as Yosemite National Park or Napa Valley.

 

8. What do you look for when choosing a destination?

TripAdvisor

It really depends on my objectives, whether I want to relax, explore or have a bit of fun. The common theme would always be a pretty extensive research of a place before making decision. I would look at TripAdvisor or similar travel portals offering first hand travellers’ feedback. I like places offer more than just accommodation and culinary experience. Staying in a resort throughout my holidays is not my cup of tea. There has to be something more.

 

9. The most interesting destination you’ve visited?

Image: Suttipon Thanarakpong/Shutterstock

Myanmar. I visited this country three years ago when it was just opening up to the world. I was fascinated by it from the moment I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital.

Myanmar, due to its long isolation, is like a time capsule that offers centuries of history told through unchanged architecture. There are some fine examples of architecture from the colonial era, as well as real gems from the glorious past before the British rule, like Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon that is covered with gold plates, or the ancient city of Bagan.

Burmese people are extremely polite and not intrusive which makes sightseeing Myanmar a real pleasure.

What’s your top tip to for travellers choosing a holiday destination?