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Travel Leaders: Jacqui Walshe, Executive Chairman, The Walshe Group

Jacqui Walshe thought she had seen the worst of it for the travel industry after 9/11. This was exactly why she was the steady hand needed to steer The Walshe Group through the pandemic.

Jacqui Walshe thought she had seen the worst of it for the travel industry after 9/11. This was exactly why she was the steady hand needed to steer The Walshe Group through the pandemic.

As the daughter of the larger than life Rodney Walshe, who founded Walshe’s World in 1976, Jacqui had to define her own business and leadership style very early on.

Jacqui moved from New Zealand with her husband, five year old and newborn in 2000 to take on the challenge of taking the Australian office to the next level.

At the time, the boys club was extremely pronounced, but Jacqui famously used that to her advantage, gaining success by using a different approach.

Twenty-two years on and a pandemic later, Jacqui shares her leadership wisdom.

What’s happening in your business at the moment and how does the forthcoming period look?

Delta One Suites

We are fortunate that The Walshe Group represents very resilient global airline and tourism brands that stayed loyal to our organisation and thankfully, the Australian and New Zealand markets.

Our core teams for Lufthansa Group, Delta, and ANA were working hard through the pandemic, our destinations (Hawaii, Okinawa, Flanders) kept investing and we won new business in AlUla

This meant we were able to retain many of our people and those who worked elsewhere are for the most part returning.

While there is definitely a whole new level of stress as the market fully re-opens, we are in a reasonable place.

What are you excited about right now?

On the water in Norway

It has been a relief to see travel demand is coming back at pace. People are so ready to travel again, they are absorbing the extra hassle and cost without major drama.

There are some short term challenges that will be difficult to overcome, but we can engage in sales and marketing again, knowing that the pent up demand is real.

Are there key trends you are seeing that are driving change in your business or across the industry?

In Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Oman

Commission cuts and a major push for cost reduction across the board are pushing up against a shortage of workers and a fair expectation of higher wages.

Business models have been revised by necessity over the last two years, but further changes are required before the market settles down into any kind of business as usual.

Extra complexity across the purchase and travel process is adding to the burden for consumers and industry alike.

What are the biggest challenges for travel? 

Jacqui diving with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef

The climate crisis and its future impact on destinations, geographies and physical tourism assets.

Another great challenge will be forecasting consumer purchasing decisions. 

There will be financial challenges for businesses too: diminished cash reserves, the impact of commission cuts, and increased costs of doing business.

What about the biggest opportunities?

Family Surf Lesson
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ben Ono

Demand is still as strong as ever. There has been rationalisation in the product on offer which means that increased yields will likely help in the first phase of recovery.

Sustainability is to the fore so will be a good chance to build back better. 

Employees are likely to see the benefit of a competitive labour market: the industry hasn’t paid well traditionally so hopefully, there will be a chance to increase salaries, even if overall the numbers working in the industry decrease.

As a leader yourself, how important is leadership right now? And what does/should good leadership look like?

Hawaii
Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) /Joe West

Quality leadership is always critical. Leadership mettle was severely tested during the pandemic and while some did better than others, all the major brands got through.

Leaders are still managing cash and their people as their main focus, now laden with a huge number of operational challenges.

Good leadership should always prioritise customers and employees. I admire integrity and respect for others in particular.

What would you like to see change? Or more of?

Boss leadership job

A lot of positive change came from an incredibly tough time, but there is still more to do when it comes to really progressing digital transformation across businesses. Changing individual mindsets about the future of the industry is also needed. 

There have been areas where things have gone straight back to what they were before and that is surprising and disappointing.

It’s time for everyone to challenge themselves and to make sure things are really new and better. 

How key is collaboration in the industry?

Karry On - Delta Female Women in Aviation
Image: Delta

Still important, and it was great to see how much collaboration there was through the pandemic. That said it won’t be long before full-scale competitive pressures are back to the fore. 

There is a fair amount of strategic commercial groupings underway in response to market shifts which could influence the lines of future collaboration. 

Do you think enough emphasis is being placed on sustainability in travel and addressing the climate crisis?

APT
Marine turtles photographed on the beautiful Ningaloo Reef of Western Australia.

We certainly hear about it enough, and a few companies are leading the way in progressive change, but there is still a degree of greenwashing rather than concrete change across the whole industry.

The fundamental loss of financial sustainability for most providers through the pandemic set back the ability to invest and make the changes needed to meet upcoming demand.

Consumers are even more serious about the climate crisis now, so there will be a tipping point after this initial demand spike when suddenly the view will shift again.

It will be interesting to see if people continue to travel as usual or if their purchase decisions change.

What are your personal learnings from the pandemic?

karryon-lufthansa-cabin-crew

We are all so resilient! This really tested me, and I know so many others.

I learnt to accept what I couldn’t change but to work like crazy to find the opportunities that were there.

What’s your message to the industry?

KARRYON-ANA-Airline-Corporate-Clients-Japanese-Hospitality

Be pragmatic but still progressive – there is a long road ahead.