Corporate travel insights from the CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit 2022

15 September, 2022

Highly regarded as the industry benchmark event across the Australia Pacific region, the CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit offers thought leadership, valuable networking opportunities, and in-depth insight on the issues and trends that shape the local and global airline industry. This year's event in Adelaide on 13-Sep-2022 and 14-Sep-2022 also incorporated the CTC Corporate Travel Summit.

Rebuilding domestic and international aviation will be crucial for the Australia Pacific region as we navigate the unknown post-COVID world. However, rising sustainable aviation, reduced business traffic, and swift border closer decisions have added pressure and uncertainty to an already complex process of recovery for the airline and wider travel industry. Nonetheless, such monumental industry change often gives rise to opportunity and innovation.

Here are some of the key observations from the event.

Australia's Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government - Catherine King

Rebuilding aviation remains a "work in progress" with recovery "not over". Ms King said the Government plans to collaborate with industry. Ms King noted she hosted an aviation round table, with problems and opportunities identified.

Virgin Australia Group - Jayne Hrdlicka, CEO

The carrier is "really pleased" with its short haul international business, noting the short haul network "makes sense" and there is room to "continue to grow". Ms Hrdlicka said the "long haul business was a problem", noting the airline serves "the needs of our guests", with the carrier establishing a network of partnerships to ensure passengers long haul requirements are met.

"We know what the cost benchmarks look like", and the carrier is working "really hard" to make sure its baseline cost structure is at a competitive price point. Ms Hrdlicka said "cost is everything", and the carrier cannot be a "value carrier" without a focus on cost.

"We're punching way above our weight", noting the carrier has "clarity" on its market share. The carrier held 31% of the market share prior to pandemic, with the carrier now sitting at 33% of market share. Ms Hrdlicka noted the airline is a "value carrier" and will target "value conscious" leisure and corporate travellers.

Qantas Group - John Gissing, Executive Associated Airlines and Services

With international borders closed, the group saw "massive pent up demand the minute the state borders opened". Mr Gissing said the group "had to completely rethink demand because it was changing so rapidly". Mr Gissing added "it was a boom where Australians were desperate to discover their own backyard", highlighting that at one stage the group's busiest routes were Brisbane-Cairns and Perth-Broome.

The carrier has "a lot of confidence going into the Sep-2022 holidays". Mr Gissing highlighted actions taken by the carrier include adjustment of minimum connection times, hiring of 1500 employees since Apr-2022, promotion of 1000 staff and "taking action right across the spectrum with suppliers".

Regional Express (Rex) - Chris Hine, Executive Director

The business travel segment is "one part of the market that hasn't gone back to where it was". Mr Hine noted that despite the slower recovery of business travel, he forecasts overall travel demand to reach and perhaps exceed 2019 levels by the end of 2022. Ongoing challenges within the airline industry, including airport crew shortages and delays, contribute to reluctance to travel, particularly for business travellers. Mr Hine noted business travel managers must evaluate whether they're prepared to take the risk of delayed and/or cancelled travel.

The carrier is not "in the same boat" as other airlines coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr Hine acknowledged that Rex is "in the same water", however its passengers "don't have to deal with disruptions" compared to other carriers. "Being a strong sustainable business" will provide a "really good start" in weathering issues. Mr Hine said it is fundamentally about being a "strong business" to weather financial impacts, noting that being nimble and being "prepared to accept change" is "valuable".

CTM (Corporate Travel Management) - Susan Connor, GM, Victoria and Tasmania

"So much has changed during COVID-19" with there now being so much that the traveller needs to know. Ms Connor believes travellers are looking for TMCs to provide information on health measures at the time of booking.

Customers are "wanting to have as much information at their fingertips as they can" to be able to make informed decisions. Ms Connor highlighted this includes information about the destination they are travelling to, including COVID-19 protocols, border closures, vaccination requirements and destination information.

Commenting on challenges on surface issues from suppliers, "we're seeing different modelling come through from customers" as a result of the last few months. Ms Connor said: "It is evident a lot of customers are prepared to pay for the service that they were once getting as the norm, but are now potentially looking at implant scenarios and having a consultant in house". Ms Connor added a shift is being seen as people are wanting "to have the experience and person they can turn to immediately, to get the information they need".

TMCs "need to be able to provide visibility at the point of sale about what the carbon emissions look like for the traveller per flight, per cabin class, for the type of aircraft they travel on". Ms Connor added "customers want to see as much information upfront as they possibly can".

Commenting on significant investment in the amount of tech people within the company, stated it has enabled CTM to listen to what tools customers need when travelling. Ms Connor said CTM was able to "pivot" during the pandemic and build the technologies being requested, to be able to provide information that is "pre-trip, during the booking process, during the trip, and post trip, from a reconciliation point of view".

The "biggest" change has been observed in customer's use of technology. Ms Connor stated that although customers were using online booking tools and portals before, "now more than ever" customers are willing to support TMCs through this period where some challenges are being experienced. Ms Connor added CTM has seen an increase in the uptake on technology with customers wanting to do as much as they can, as TMCs and the supply chain scale up their business as well.

Virgin Australia Group - Alistair Hartley, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer

SME, corporate and government travel markets "have trailed", however have shown week on week and month on month improvements. Mr Hartley noted the SME market has "come back earlier" than larger corporate and government markets.

"There is no single silver bullet" for sustainability. Mr Hartley said a "critical component" is fleet, noting SAF is a "really big part" of the journey to net zero, and called on industry and Government to collaborate for SAF supply.

LEK Consulting - Emily Davis, Partner

The trend towards remote working during the pandemic has "restructured the entire way that business operates". Ms Davis said the desire by workers to preserve their home life will impact workplaces and the combination of business and leisure travel is expected to be a sustained behaviour.

There is a lot of uncertainty across "the business environment in general". Ms Davis reported "a lot of concern about the cost of living" and how consumers will respond over the next 12 to 18 months.

Long haul business travel from Australia is not expected to be "significantly impacted" by sustainability considerations in the short term. However, Ms Davis said people may reconsider short haul travel based on sustainability requirements and may adopt "more sustainable behaviours" across the entire trip.

CAPA - Centre for Aviation - Simon Elsegood, Head of Research

Business travel is a "really nuanced discussion", which needs to be broken down via reason and geography of travel. There is a structural move away from air travel, however the reasons to travel remain relevant, noting face to face connections with individuals are "more important". Internal business travel will be reduced and replaced via telecommunications and other forms of communication. Some smaller "quick trips" have been consolidated into larger, longer, or multistage trips. Mr Elsegood said on a geographical basis, business travel outlook is varied. Mr Elsegood noted business benefitted from the cost savings of reducing air travel.

While international long haul demand is reduced, there is a "generally positive" view of Australia following the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Elsegood said there is an "appetite" for inbound travel, noting the "demand is there", and that Australia's reputation is "enhanced".

From a "wider perspective", there needs to be a "normalisation of the travel process'. Mr Elsegood said travel is "vastly more confusing", and smoothing the travel process and facilitating easier travel will bring back traveller confidence.

Optus - Lisa Ashton, Corporate and Finance Operations Manager

"We have seen a dramatic increase in travel" but expects this to tail off. Ms Ashton continued, "given the focus on sustainability we're going to have start thinking long term about the necessity of travel and using our technology more".

LEK Consulting - George Woods, Partner

One of the "consistent themes" across the travel sector is "optimism with uncertainty". Mr Limbrick highlighted key themes such as demand, the travel experience and the decision process and travel policies for corporate travel.

Technology is "not enough on its own" in regards to sustainability. Mr Woods added that consumer sentiment "is growing", with growing sentiment in the corporate segment. Coronavirus has "really brought it home", which "has proved" behaviours can be changed.

Envest - Steve Limbrick, Executive Director

Mr Limbrick stated one of the "consistent themes" across the travel sector is "optimism with uncertainty". Mr Limbrick highlighted key themes such as demand, the travel experience and the decision process and travel policies for corporate travel.

Partnership Travel Consulting - Virginia Fitzpatrick, Regional Director Australia

Recent resourcing and response issues in the travel industry have been as much an issue for travel management companies and hotels as for airlines. Ms Fitzpatrick said the hotel sector has responded better with communications, support and the "positivity of the messaging about the value of the hotel industry".

Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) - Jan Argarin, Business Services Manager

Ms Argarin commented on the need for corporate travel management, stating: "We really need the support 24/7". Ms Argarin said businesses without a corporate travel manager would be "a little lost" in the current environment.

Pulse Travel - Emmalita Malmberg, Operations Manager

Ms Malmberg reported a "huge swing" away from companies managing travel in-house to using an agent. Ms Malmberg said it has "never been easier" for travel management companies "to prove our value and our worth" due to the current market conditions, adding: "Corporate and leisure agents have never been more valuable".

Japan Airlines - Akihide Yoguchi, VP Strategy Research - Asia Oceania region

The carrier no longer flies in Siberian airspace as a result of Russian airspace closures following its invasion of Ukraine. Mr Yoguchi reported the carrier must now fly over the North Pole, adding four hours to the carrier's London service. Mr Yoguchi noted this has been "very costly", as the carrier also requires additional crew to cover rest periods, however passenger load factors have remained consistently high due to pent-up demand and low competition.

Travelport - Sue Carter, Head of Asia Pacific, Air Partners

"We are looking at how we can have the agency world act as a world class retailer on behalf of the airline". Ms Carter said its surveys have indicated the experience of retailing in travel "is not really at the level consumers are used to in other forms". Ms Carter added Travelport is bringing "a bit of external thinking from our agency communities into giving another perspective into how outcomes can be achieved".

Skyscanner - Hugh Aitken, VP Commercial

Mr Aitken reported Skyscanner's daily searches in Australia for international travel is currently above 2019 levels. Mr Aitken stated however, that the challenge is that bookings are not keeping up with demand. Mr Aitken added capacity is not at the same level, leading to limited supply and increased prices, leading to a bookings lag.

ASM Australasia - Hans Mitterlechner, Director

Australian aviation has "done extremely well in the last six months", with the market experiencing a surprisingly strong 1H2022, gaining momentum into 2H2022. Mr Mitterlechner said "the problem we see is the market is driven very much by leisure these days" and questioned how long this can be sustained, given the fact "household incomes will be squeezed". "The old logic was we [Australia] are too big for two airlines and two small for three". Mr Mitterlechner highlighted "that was 20 years ago", and outlined that in 2019, compared to 20 years prior, "we have a third more population, 28% higher GDP per capita on real terms, and we have domestic aviation traffic twice as much as 20 years earlier".

Fiji Airways - John Checkett, Executive Manager - Strategy, Networks and Alliances

The carrier's post-COVID-19 recovery has been "far in excess of what we expected it to be" with pent-up demand contributing to demand recovery. Mr Checkett said group travel bookings may recover at a slower rate, adding the carrier's booking curve is much closer to departure dates. Mr Checkett attributed the slower recovery to uncertainty regarding what may change between booking and day of travel. Mr Checkett added fares tend to increase closure to departure, which discourages group travel, however he believes the change will not be permanent within the travel community.