With Frequent Flyer lounges missing the hum of the coffee machine and overworked pancake maker, and airports becoming transit lanes for Australians escaping countries harder hit than ours, the glamour of travelling has taken a back seat. But now borders are open, vaccines are underway and protocol for new COVID-19 breakouts tightened, more and more Australians are planning their next getaway.
A recent survey from KPMG even found that up to 72% of Australians are looking to book a domestic holiday this year, with the accounting firm predicting that this rise in local travel may help offset some of the lost tourism revenue from international travellers. At last count, that loss is estimated to be around $27.206 billion over the first 10 months of 2020 alone.
Numbers aside, it’s clear Australians are itching to get back on a plane, to feel the force of take off and to travel to places unknown. That’s one of the reasons, says Stephanie Tully, Group Chief Customer Officer, Qantas has reintroduced their hugely successful Mystery Flights, originally launched in the 1990s. However, this time around each Mystery Flight ticket includes not only a flight to an undisclosed location for the day, but also a range of unique activities on the ground.
The flights, which depart from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, are rumoured to include experiences such as wine tasting in Australia’s most beautiful wine regions, and gourmet dining on warm, tropical beaches. In addition, travel time is generally under two hours and the dedicated Boeing-737s will try to incorporate low-level flying over landmark attractions on the way. The offerings are so well thought out, Tully is outwardly confident in their success: “We know they will sell out,” she states.
T Australia spoke to Stephanie Tully this week, ahead of the Mystery Flight announcement, to find out how Qantas is attracting passengers back to the air and bringing their trademark glamour back to the skies.
With a title of ‘Group Chief Customer Officer’, can you explain a little more about your role at Qantas?
“Yes, I’ll admit, it’s an interesting remit as it’s a combination of commercial and operational functions. Qantas is structured across its main airline, Jetstar and loyalty programs, so the idea is I look horizontally across the whole business, as the customer traverses across all brands. This involves marketing, product, call centres – but it’s very important to have that horizontal view.”
It’s now been around 12 months since Australians have stopped travelling regularly, how have your customers been interacting with Qantas in this time?
“We’ve tried hard to maintain a really close connection and engagement; we’ve done the cute stuff like selling pyjamas, our wine, our bar carts, all which keeps Qantas alive in the minds and hearts of customers. The Qantas brand is such a big part of Australian life, and even during the pandemic we’ve been able to see the trust for the brand grow. Through our Frequent Flyer program, customers have been earning and using points apart from just flying, so that’s an everyday experience as well. Of course, we’ve had millions of customers who’ve booked request a refund or credit, as you can imagine, and handling that well has been really important to us.”
What is your understanding of the customer sentiment in regard to getting on a plane now?
“First and foremost, we know there is a huge pent up demand for travel, whether that be for leisure or business. Travel is such a part of the Australian psyche, that when people are getting on a plane, there’s that huge joy of being ‘free’ to fly. Our crew is so excited to be back at work, and they are continuing to give the great service Qantas is known for. And the trust in our brand means there’s less concern about health and safety because people assume we get that right, which we do.”
What do you feel Qantas is doing to bring excitement and glamour back to travel?
“It’s clear people miss those familiar things’ the lounges, the VIP experiences, the salt and pepper squid! The Qantas signatures they’ve come to know and love. Those elements that drive value, that recognise our frequent flyers, they are back better than ever. Flying is an escape, the ultimate feeling of freedom and luxury, we want to make sure that those things are there and waiting for people. The release of these Mystery Flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, bring a touch of glamour, excitement and fun back to travelling as well.”
What can we expect from travel that will be better than before COVID-19 travel?
“We’ve adapted to customer trends, such as digitising the customer experience; we’ve kept that investment going during the pandemic, because we know our customers are wanting their freedom to manage their own experiences, on their own time. Personally, I can’t wait to get on a plane. It’s one of the great joys of life, especially for Australians. People will be more grateful than ever to be experiencing life, and travel is such a big part of life. It’s such a point of joy.”