Time to Change Laws and Attitudes

Do we care what airline our clients use to come to our accommodation? If so, why?

Let me wade into the debate over Qantas with Joyce’s decision to ground the fleet. Thousands of columns of intelligent and not so intelligent articles have been written – bogey men have arisen such as the Rio Tinto union basher or the union leader who aspires to the top ACTU job, the Irish mathematician who crawled his way up to the top… and then the plethora of pollies who as always are more interested in their factions, egos and self serving agendas than good sense and a real understanding of the issues at stake for the Australian tourism industry.

It was interesting to read the blogs on etravel blackboard on 1 November following an article entitled Mixed response to QF grounding. The seven blogs all took different angles. So perhaps I can start with the first one (which I wrote).

To preface this, I own up to a background of having run an international aviation publication eons ago and published magazines for BOAC, BEA and Gulf Air. On the political front I suggested in a policy piece for the British Bow Group that the Poms should merge BOAC with Swissair to make the preeminent luxury carrier worldwide. This was ignored and resulted in a highly explosive merger with BEA to create a supermarket el cheapo.

And then in my business career I saw the demise of Pam Am and TWA, Braniff (whose hostesses changed uniforms on each hop), National (“Fly me I’m Lisa” – which brought the feminists out on the streets of Miami); the mighty Swissair, Brazil’s Varig, Ansett (17,000 jobs went by the board) – the list of airlines no longer flying goes on and on.

Written from the basis of one who lived and thrived in a highly unionised industry in the UK, I have always believed in working with my employees and keeping them informed as best I could. Only once was I faced with a strike action of some 700 newspaper employees; fortunately I knew the father of the chapel with whom I had worked and for whom I had made my car and driver available to get him home when we worked late. No other senior executive had done that before. It only took an apology from me to him that I had not followed due process, to cancel the strike. Moral: look after your staff; they are your best asset.

So what did I write, after an excellent Qantas flight back from Perth, with cooked breakfast, great and attentive crew after a one minute check in using my Seniors Life Club card and Qtag for the luggage carousal?

“For any employee, let alone one whose job is to safeguard employee benefits, it suggests that those who pay for their jobs – ie. the travelling public – should use another product, is tantamount to treason. It destroys the brand.

“It is therefore argued that the board of Qantas, to whom Joyce reports, had little other option but to take the union on face-to-face. It is about time that Australian companies employed the German structure of a supervisory board with investors, union members, bankers and other stakeholders. They set the direction. This allows all relevant parties the ability to work through the direction that a company takes. Poor communications by any stakeholder is however to be deplored.”

A good marketing man’s job includes being able to plan forward and take his or her whole team on that exciting journey. It doesn’t matter whether it is a mining tycoon repositioning a hotel to the fast growing Chinese market or an Irish airline boss repositioning one of his brands to suit the changing fly me, I’m cheap market, the same principle applies.

Back to the etravelblackboard. These were some of the comments from other bloggers:

“When you have a small percentage of key staff holding other employees to ransom, as well as the employer, something has to give and it did.”

“Everyone should take a deep breath and refrain from comments when one doesn’t know the full story, not being able to resolve an industrial dispute is the sign of a weak and ineffective, out-of-touch executive team”.

“Dispute resolving is something that is managed by both teams. It requires patience and the ability to compromise but stay within accepted business practice. It is no good following a process that will lock a company into bad work practices or expenditure that will not be competitive”.

And finally specifically to the tourism industry: “Alan Joyce did the only thing possible. The sooner Qantas employees – the public – realise that cheaper air fares equal fewer jobs in the airline business, the sooner these pointless industrial stoppages will be seen to be what they are – power mongering by the union elite, benefitting no-one and seriously damaging the actual job situation in Australia – to say nothing of the tourism industry.”

Let’s not let the government get away without blame. Opening up to a free skies policy and even allowing foreign airlines to fly internal routes as suggested by professor Richard Blandy, a very smart academic with a background at the ILO in Geneva where I first met him, is not the answer; nor is allowing Emirates third rights through Australia to New Zealand (but not allowing Singapore Airlines the same via Australia to the USA). The old regime of “you fly into my country, I can fly into yours” reciprocal rights; today there is no way Qantas can compete cost wise with Emirates, Singapore or Thai on the present system. That is the reason why both Virgin and Qantas are moving more into code sharing. In this scenario airport slots and bilateral aviation agreements should always favour the Australian carrier or its code share over other carriers first. It just is not possible to continue with the present practice if Australia is to continue to have cost effective viable airlines.

We need one or two good Australian international airlines, one both for the cheap mainly leisure markets and one for the more upmarket, front end market where my business is positioned. Why, because obviously national carriers promote their own destination first and foremost – I still call Australia home as you get on your Australian aircraft leaving Heathrow, Dallas Fort Worth, Jo’burg or whether – to start the exciting holiday Down Under or back home. Hi Skippy, fly me.

I want to hear more of my guests saying how great an experience they had on Qantas or Jetstar or Virgin Australia from wherever. Don’t you?

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