A Good Sign For Our Tourism
Qantas, Australia’s national airline has announced that it is returning to Fiji after a long absence.
When they decided to leave, Danny Costello, one of the pioneers of tourism in Fiji and an ardent supporter of Qantas marked the occasion by lamenting “There go the red tails in the sunset” ,a lyrical reference to the famous red kangaroo emblem on the tail of the aircraft.
However, at that time Qantas, a major minority shareholder in the Fijian national carrier, Air Pacific at the time, was firmly committed to a code sharing arrangement and marketing support for the Fijian Company.
The association went even further with Qantas executives being seconded to fill a number of important executive positions, even at one time as the CEO and Managing Director of Air Pacific.
This close relationship was supported by the government of the day who actively encouraged the involvement, although there was a significant dissident group of local executives and others who believed that Air Pacific could stand on its own feet.
Qantas history with Fiji
Qantas has a long history in Fiji and some of the important people in the local tourism industry came to Fiji as management staff for the airline.
Perhaps the most famous of the Qantas expatriates was Roy Whitton, as a long time Qantas staffer who was appointed as country manager for Fiji in 1964 and ran the airport operations as well as overseeing all the other functions and reporting to Australia.
From the very early days Qantas was one of the main airlines at Nadi International Airport, with both direct scheduled flights and as a technical stop for the trans-Pacific route before the time of passenger aircraft that could fly west coast USA to Sydney non-stop.
A great number of people had their first introduction to Fiji as a stopover on the trans-Pacific route and Qantas was an important player in the development of the tourism industry in this country.
Roy left Qantas, as did a number of his mates, and started what is now Fiji’s largest tourism group, Rosie Holidays.
Roy kept his professional relationship with Qantas open for many years and understood how their control of the distribution systems in Australia was critical to the growth of Fiji as a destination.
While Qantas metal no longer serviced the Fijian market, the relationship remained strong with people like Roy, Danny Costello and Dick Smith ensuring that the local industry had a close working relationship with the Australian executives and that a number of interesting products were developed and sold the Qantas Holidays programs.
These provided access to all the wholesalers in Australia aligned to Qantas and opened up to the local resorts a very strong network.
Eventually the national airline, now renamed Fiji Airways, became a strength in its own right and is now the strongest regional airline in the Pacific and a respected brand in all the international markets it serves.
Qantas continues to hold the shares that give it a strong position with the national carrier and are one of the strongest supporters.
Fiji Airways was a member of the Qantas frequent flier club and the Qantas Lounges worldwide have special arrangements with for the local Tabua Club members.
Australia largest tourism market to Fiji
Australia has always been the biggest source market for Fijian tourism and the Qantas connection in Australia has played a significant part in supporting this.
The Fiji market has been a popular destination for families over the years but in the last five years there has been a shift towards properties in the top end of the market and Qantas mention this in all their media releases on their planned return to using their own metal to service the route.
They stress that they will continue to have the code share arrangements with Fiji Airways and that they will continue to support the joint marketing.
But reading between the lines they also appear to believe that there are sufficient clients with a preference for the Qantas brand, particularly in the upper end of the market and that they can leverage that group.
With over twelve million active members the Club provides a huge database to sell travel.
Credit Suisse Corp values the Club at over $4 billion, more than half the value of the airline.
And club members have shown incredible loyalty to the Qantas brand.
So the Flying Kangaroo is coming back to Fiji and we should all welcome the move.
They have their low cost operator, Jet star already flying here and this venture appears to be doing well.
They plan to put 696 extra seats into the market to start, representing a total of thirty thousand seats a year.
They have obviously done their homework and believe that there is a substantial market that they can access in Australia but that they need to use the Qantas brand standards to successfully do so. They have a vast number of loyal frequent flyer members who prefer the brand and they have a lot of different contacts with them but need Qantas metal to be successful.
New arrangements with Qantas
Qantas has released few details on the new arrangements but it seem certain they will work closely with Fiji Airways.
They will probably have some additional staff at the airport, they will utilise the Tabua Club Lounge, their menus will be different, and initially they will fly the B737.800 series aircraft.
Many of the passengers will be buying Qantas Holidays product and it appears they will talk to the more affluent market in Australia, probably offering interesting packages to different properties than Fiji Airways.
This means that they will also probably also expand the market from loyal Qantas travellers through a combination of offering a brand they trust, a standard of service they know and travel agents they know.
Qantas currently plan four flights a week out of Sydney with morning departures, returning the same afternoon and the schedules clearly target tourists.
The four flights a week also open up freight capacity that the local industries here will appreciate as there are some constrictions on the Nadi/Sydney route for Fijian exporters.
The timings will especially assist fresh produce exporters.
The schedule also offers an alternative for business people that may be attractive with the late afternoon arrival in Sydney.
This timing may work well for a number of international connection flights in Sydney as well.
Over the next few weeks we can expect to get a clearer picture of what impact the return of Qantas to Fiji will have, but for now we welcome them back.
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