Illuminate showcases the next era in travel

You couldn’t help but walk away from Illuminate’s 2021 virtual experience with a smile. If you weren’t grooving to DJ Wildflower’s tunes, perhaps it was the final session when travel industry founder and Flight Centre Travel Group Managing Director Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner explained how he got the nickname ‘Skroo’ from his school days.

All jokes aside, the event was a feast of amazing insights, useful updates and lightbulb moments thanks to guest speakers including Olympic gold medal swimmer Cate Campbell and human behaviour specialist Dan Gregory. Throw in a bit of drama at the end with the prize-barrel antics and Illuminate was quite the show.

C-suites and procurement chiefs may also have been grinning after hearing a travel recovery is imminent and that Australia is headed for strong financial recovery in 2022.

The virtual event, hosted by Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate division, attracted more than 2000 audience members who tuned in from Australia and New Zealand to hear how and when the predicted recovery phase for the travel industry was expected to take off.

Short and sharp, the event featured keynote speakers, Q and As, panel discussions and audience polls, all artfully interspersed with music, entertainment and prizes. Guests could explore a virtual partner showcase or network in a dedicated meeting hub.

Kicking off discussions was Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who dialled in from the boardroom in the airline’s head office in Sydney. Mr Joyce said Qantas had been working on getting as many staff back to work and aircraft back in the sky in line with government plans to reopen borders.

“We are planning to get back to 100% of the pre-COVID domestic schedule by January. That's great news for domestic tourism, for domestic business travel and great news for people wanting to visit family and friends over Christmas,” Mr Joyce said.

“Even on a route like Melbourne-Sydney, a big business route, we are currently down to one flight a day. This is coming from 55 flights per day before COVID. From November we’ll progressively go back to nearly 15 flights a day, by Christmas get back to 30-40 flights per day and by February we should be close to the pre-COVID schedule. They are all good moves in the right direction.”

The Irish-born CEO told James Kavanagh, who heads up Flight Centre Travel Group’s corporate and leisure businesses in Australia that international routes would be brought back from 1 November starting with London and Los Angeles and by end of the year Canada, Fiji, Singapore and Tokyo.

Mr Joyce’s optimistic outlook was echoed by Virgin Australia CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka who said the carrier had used the downtime during the pandemic as an opportunity to reassess its operation and prepare to meet customer demand.

“We used the opportunity to step back, reflect on who we are as an airline, who we serve, to completely transform our cost base and to make sure we’re focusing on the things we know matter to our customers such as value and choice,” Jayne said.   

Responsible travel and sustainability were also key themes throughout sessions. Representatives from both Accor and ANZ appeared in panel to talk about duty of care and what that meant for the travel and accommodation experience. Dan Gregory, global human behaviour specialist gave his perspectives on why face-to-face was so important for building trust, community and engagement. Olympic golden girl Cate Campbell opened-up to the audience about maintaining personal strength and resilience during the hard times.

Adam Moon, General Manager of Stage and Screen Australia said he and his team were preparing for the ramp up of travel activity from clients across sectors as borders re-open and vaccination rates rise.

“Covid has had a devastating impact on many of our clients. From the music and performance industry to team sports and exhibitions – the health and safety risks combined with travel restrictions have been felt widely,” Adam said.

“But after hearing the overwhelming optimism from many of the industry leaders at Illuminate there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel and we are ready to support our customers who want to get back to flying and doing what they love most. It’s definitely time to fly and we couldn’t be more excited.”

Time To Fly? Yes it is.