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"The Bounce-Back Will Majorly Incorporate Agents" Tom Scruby, Qatar Airways

With a motto to "Never stop flying," Qatar Airways has successfully grown its position through the pandemic by committing to ongoing repatriation flights and strengthening its relationships with the trade. The Doha based airline also just celebrated 5-years of flying from Adelaide. I caught up with Tom Scruby, Qatar Airways Pacific VP, to find out more.

With a motto to “Never stop flying,” Qatar Airways has successfully grown its position through the pandemic by committing to ongoing repatriation flights and strengthening its relationships with the trade. The Doha based airline also just celebrated 5-years of flying from Adelaide. I caught up with Tom Scruby, Qatar Airways Pacific VP, to find out more.

How have the last few months been for the airline?

As a company, Qatar Airways has adapted well to the continuing cycle of helping compassionate repatriation and essential business travel in and out of Australia.

We remain focused on supporting the customers and trade. I feel proud of what we are doing to help and cannot thank my team and the trade enough for their support.

For our industry, it is still impossible to predict when we will open the international borders and in what format. If we knew that we could fly from early 2022, we would work with our agent partners to stimulate demand and revenue. We hope a timeline can be identified at some point later this year.

Meanwhile, how are you feeling about Europe opening up again?

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Europeans and Americans are beginning to book selected routes for the Northern hemisphere summer and travel internationally soon (some green corridors are already established). Australia has done very well managing COVID-19 to date but will now need to wait longer than other markets.

I do think we’ll open up more green corridors, where they have similar circumstances to us, but there are not too many countries who have that in the world right now.

What does flying again in those countries reopening change for Qatar Airways regarding service, innovation and network?

As a company, we continue to create and innovate. Every couple of days, I receive news of a further update or development from our sales and PR team in Doha. There is always something new that has been rolled out, something creative and innovative that helps us grow and strengthen our position. This is especially so for our COVID-19 hygiene and safety protocols implemented to safeguard passengers’ health.

It’s worth knowing that Qatar Airways is the first international airline to achieve a 5-star rating for COVID-19 safety by Skytrax, making us a very safe airline where 99.988% of our passenger’s travel COVID-19 free.

We are the first airline to implement the Honeywell Ultraviolet Cabin Disinfection Technology to ensure optimal cleanliness and have recently rolled out a touch-free inflight entertainment system in our A350 fleet where passengers can use their own smart device for navigation to minimise contact for maximum safety.

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Also, we’re the first middle eastern airline to trial the IATA Digital Passport mobile app in March this year to pave the way for the future of aviation. So, we continue to aim to be creative and innovate and be the airline leading the way in that development.

We’re still winning the market even with certain markets being closed. We are still taking a high proportion of bookings outbound, and that’s because of the over 130 destinations that we are flying to and our proactive can do attitude towards supporting those who need to travel.

We want to lead the bounce back and reconnect people all over the world. Since the years before the pandemic began, we’ve supported Australia, and we’ll be there for many years ahead.

How are forward bookings looking? Is there an appetite for international travel despite borders remaining closed?

There are forward bookings for the end of the year and green shoots for even further ahead. We have a policy that allows the flexibility to change bookings, so that’s been a great confidence builder for travellers.

I do think that despite some second and third waves going around the world, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the first time. Working with IATA and their Travel Pass, many countries are already talking about vaccinated travel requirements. Those countries rely exceptionally heavily on tourism, and they will soon start to allow tourism to begin again.

How has Qatar Airways’ relationship been with trade since the pandemic began?

Tom Scruby, Vice President Pacific Qatar Airways

We’ve made friends in areas we never necessarily thought we would, and some agents have pivoted their business hugely. This year and over the previous 12 months, we’ve done everything we can to support agents, and while bookings are significantly down, we’ve done the best we can to help those who are booking.

I recently visited an agent who’s been a top partner with us. He invited the sales manager and me to his house, and he served us his local food. I told him that our relationship with agents like him had become the most rewarding part of our year because they are the ones going above and beyond for their customers.

The behaviour has changed from having sales agreements and targets to working with the individual agents to support them on what they need. And working with them on individual cases to help get their customers where they need to be.

There are hundreds of examples where our team has gone out to the agent community and said, “How can we help? What is it we need to do? If there’s something in the media, or if you hear of someone in need, let’s work together to try and get them home.”

It makes us all feel incredibly proud to do what we do with the agents. We’ve supported them, we’ve done the right thing, and we’ve won the hearts and minds of customers and agents. Hopefully, this will help shape how we work together in the future. I believe we have created a much deeper and more meaningful relationship.

That’s quite a shift, isn’t it from carrying people on holidays or doing business to essentially rescuing people?

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster because it is often problematic. However, still, it comes from Qatar Airways decision never to stop flying.

The whole company is operating at this speed, which has meant that we’ve continued throughout the pandemic.

You’ve just reached another milestone by celebrating five years of flying in and out of Adelaide. What does this mean for the airline and the state?

Qatar Airways
Adelaide Airport

Flying into Adelaide has had a hugely positive impact on the cargo business from South Australia, as we’ve been able to service the food industry to the rest of the world. We’ve exported over 15 million kilos of Cargo out of Adelaide and 15.2 million kilos into Adelaide over the last five years.

We’ve also carried just shy of half a million passengers in the last five years, so it’s a great moment to celebrate.

We’re working now on what we can do with the local community post-pandemic regarding local produce. From outstanding wine to seafood, there are many quality products we can and do help connect with the rest of the world to showcase the amazing produce available in South Australia.

It’s all mainly thanks to the South Australian trade partners who have been the ones who have kickstarted the flight over the last five years. I was honoured to spend time with them all at the celebration in Adelaide Airport this month.

What do you think travel post-pandemic looks like from a corporate travel perspective?

Qatar Business

All of the corporates I speak to have said the same, “The first thing we’re going to do when we can is get on a plane and meet in person.”

It will take time to get back to previous travel levels, but we will get back. Corporate travel policies will be different because they’ll need additional protection around the large corporates. Still, the SMEs I talk to are ready to bounce when they can. Domestically, we’ve already seen this happening in Australia.

What would you say to agents about where they fit in this new travel world?

I think that at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a considerable surge in online bookings. Still, as complexity has (and continues) to come into play, the good news for agents is that they became highly relevant and valuable, and I do not see that changing.

I think that that bounce back will majorly incorporate agents, so that’s fantastic news. The message around our beautiful and beloved industry will be okay. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I think that that surge will come, and I’m confident we’re going to bounce back and do very well together.

So, your markets will be there, and the stopover proposition in Qatar is there too to explore. It is going to be fantastic for agents to go to Doha and experience for themselves.

Qatar, Doha
Doha awaits

Sure, the industry will have changed, but the core message is that people, whether for business or leisure, will want to travel. We’re going to be there to support them hand in hand with the trade.

I think that’s our real key message, and it feels tangible now; it feels like it is just on the horizon. We’ve been through a lot already together, and I can’t tell you when we’re going to reach the horizon; I wish I could. But I think it’s within grasp; we’re on the home stretch.