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FCTG Illuminate 2021: Time to fly, Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO

Flight Centre Travel Group's Corporate Illuminate 2021 event has wrapped today after an A-list line-up of speakers shared their thoughts to over 2,000 travel professionals and corporate partners tuning in from all over Australia.

Flight Centre Travel Group’s Corporate Illuminate 2021 event has wrapped today after an A-list line-up of speakers shared their thoughts to over 2,000 travel professionals and corporate partners tuning in from all over Australia.

The theme for this year’s Illuminate was ‘Time to Fly’ with a significant focus on traveller health and safety, sustainability and lessons learned from the pandemic to build post-pandemic business resilience for the long-term.

Managing Director of Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) in Australia, James Kavanagh, spoke to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce about the restart of travel and the national carrier’s plans for international take off from 1 November.

Kicking things off in cheeky fashion, Joyce quipped to fellow countryman Kavanagh, “How did two Irishmen end up here? Do we need subtitles for the audience?”

James Kavanagh chats to Alan Joyce

Asked by Kavanagh how things are looking for the airline’s recovery, Joyce said, “We’re now seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. Given the positive vaccine rollout and the understanding that where six months ago we didn’t know what was going to happen, we now have a clearer idea.”

“We have a reopening plan for domestic and international, and from Christmas, we will be able to go again,” he said, stating that the fleet would be back fully operating by July next year except for the airline’s A380s.

Joyce estimated that the airline will have 100 per cent of its domestic pre-COVID schedule back by January 2022 and “above that” by February if Western Australia reopens its borders which he said would be “great news for family and friends.”

Asked about how consistent he anticipates border openings to be and the threat of future snap lockdowns, Joyce said that the big difference in where Australia is now is that the nation’s approach has become generally one of “how to live with the virus.”

“There will still be protections, of course, but the rest of the world is ahead of us,” he said.

“The U.S domestic market is back to pre-covid levels, and they are living with the virus now, so I am optimistic. This wasn’t the case three to six months ago – but it is now.”

What about the Qantas Group customer experience?

Qantas First Lounge Sydney
Qantas First Lounge Sydney

Asked what the flying experience will feel like on Qantas and Jetstar, the Qantas Group CEO said there will still be protections such as the use of masks and hand sanitiser. Still, generally, travellers can expect the same levels of Qantas service.

From 1 November, Sydney’s International First-class lounge will reopen with 35 Qantas domestic lounges and international lounges to reopen progressively in the coming months.

“It’s very clear what you get on Qantas and Jetstar, and we’ll continue to deliver that,” he said.

The airline’s short-term objective is to “get our aircraft and people back to work as soon as possible”.

With around 10,000 Qantas Group employees still stood down, Joyce says that the Group’s immediate goal is to generate positive cash flow rather than profit to get the network fully operational again.

This will likely include more Jetstar $22 sale fares in the coming months to get more people travelling again and the network back in the air.

“I think long term, you’ll see very attractive airfares out there,” he said.

Is this the beginning or the end for in-person events?

After recently travelling to a 2,000 delegate IATA aviation conference in Boston, Joyce said that he thought in-person events would be back in a significant way and that he was “really optimistic about business travel resuming.”

“I think we all can’t wait to get in a room together again. To see customers and interact in person.”

“You can’t do that virtually,” he said.

On the topic of vaccinations and being one of the first airlines to mandate its customers and staff to be fully vaccinated, Joyce said, “When you look at it, many countries have now mandated vaccinations which are one big reason we decided to follow suit.”

Joyce noted that after surveying Qantas Group staff initially, 96% of employees said they had every intent to get vaccinated and duly did.

“Even if there wasn’t a requirement, we have a duty of care to look after our employees, our customers and the communities we fly to,” he said.

What about sustainability?

With achieving net-zero status in the news daily, Joyce talked to the airline’s 2050 pledge and its ‘Our Planet’ program as to what the Group has been doing to achieve its goals to date.

“We were the second airline group in the world after IAG to aim to be carbon neutral by 2050.”

The airline has since employed a sustainability officer who reports to Joyce and with the Group operating the most extensive airline carbon offset program globally, including 10% of airline revenue offset by customers to help global environmental projects such as protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Joyce said the Group had also begun an internal sustainable technology project called “Winton”, named after the airline’s founding town in Queensland.

The project aims to enable the airline’s domestic fleet to become more sustainable across all its operations and achieve a 2030 target.

What about Alan Joyce’s pandemic learnings?

Remember Alex?

One quote Joyce said he has referred to constantly throughout the pandemic is from legendary U.S President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”

“We had to make some terrible decisions, such as making 9,000 people redundant,” said Joyce.

“There was no way we could have avoided that despite it being a horrible decision to have to make.”

Moving forward, Joyce said that the effect of making tough decisions was that “It means that we can grow for the future and expand again. We’re very excited about these opportunities.” he said.

To wrap up the interview, Kavanagh asked Joyce whether he remembered an aspiring ten-year-old boy called Alex Jacquot who sent the CEO a letter asking for tips about starting a new airline called ‘Oceania Express’ featuring his own primary schoolmates as the employees.

“I do!” said Joyce. “We invited him to come to our head office, and he gave us some great ideas about Project Sunrise, including putting real plants on the plane to release more oxygen because it was such a long flight. I wish I were that passionate about aviation when I was his age,” he said.

Alan Joyce’s advice to Alex? “Start working for Qantas and aim to become the CEO one day, rather than starting your own airline in Australia.”

Hosted by FCTG’s corporate brands FCM, Corporate Traveller, Flight Centre Business Travel and Stage and Screen, Illuminate is an annual event for business leaders, travel bookers and travel decision-makers that features keynote presentations delivered by some of Australia’sstop business leaders and influencers.