Travel Agents

Burnes on Helloworld’s future

Daisy Melwani

A little over 100 days in the top job, Helloworld CEO Andrew Burnes said he’s committed to ensuring the company becomes a much stronger business by 2020.

Speaking at the annual Helloworld for Business forum in Singapore, Burnes revealed a new senior leadership group which mostly includes pre-Helloworld execs and a few recently announced positions in the roles of CFO, Head of IT and Group GM NZ.

“This whole team is invigorated to make sure Helloworld is a stronger business tomorrow than it is today and it’ll be a much stronger business in 2020 than it is today.”

“The truth of the matter is that we had a really silo business and for a long period of time the left hand wasn’t too sure what the right hand was doing, and businesses, although they were good businesses, they operated completely independently from each other, across the Tasman and within Australia,” he said.

“Although we have the diverse elements and parts to our business, both diverse elements and parts are communicating with each other they’re working together and we’re working as one team.

“That’s extremely important for you to know that because the contributions going from senior management and leaders throughout our business, are coming from right across the business and that’s a very different situation from where it was even from 6 months ago.”

Burnes said Helloworld, with an expected $5.4 billion FY17 TTV, is now in a position to leverage its size as the biggest inbound operator in Australia and the South Pacific coupled with its influence to tee up sponsorship agreements to help fuel growth for agent members.

According to Burnes, the group’s venture into sponsorship of Carlton in Business has delivered over $14 million in new business for its agencies in Victoria.

Running the agreement with the football club as a “toe in the water” trial to garner its potential for other future sponsorships, Burnes said “as an exercise the answer we now have back is that it definitely will”, adding he was in “deep conversation” with the NRL to provide sponsorship along similar lines to deliver business to its Queensland and New South Wales agency network.

Burnes said he was also talking to another major sport about possible sponsorship, but declined to comment further.

In addition to sport sponsorships, for the first time the Helloworld for Business brand collective has also been pushed out in national advertising, appearing in the Australian Financial Review with future call to action being a newly launched website www.hwfb.com.au.

“This is not only delivering benefits to Helloworld for Business partners, but gives Helloworld branding significant exposure,” Burnes said.

“The Helloworld brand is out there and the brands that work best are the brands you see and bump into, it creates familiarity.”

Along with increased marketing activity, Burnes revealed possible new taglines for the group’s corporate arm, changing from “experts in everywhere” to “Helloworld for business, with you ever step of the way” as one of the possible outcomes.

“At Helloworld we are experts in a lot of things, but it’s not everywhere,” Burnes said.

“We have to get across a fundamental proposition to or customers, and it’s not, thank goodness, lowest airfares guaranteed either.”

Burnes commented on the popular tagline erected by Flight Centre saying “our friends in Brisbane” would potentially want to move away from that as it was possibly not the business they were in right now.

“The real art form in our game is what happens when a customer walks out the door of the plane,” Burnes said.

“It’s a huge world out there. We sell 147 countries regularly. Customers want reliability, professional advice; they want someone watching their back 24/7.”

Commenting on the Helloworld web strategy following the departure of its .com.au ceo Jeremy Reitman and termination of the Orbitz agreement, Burnes said there’s still “a lot of work to do” and they were not “playing catch up with our competitors in this space”, but playing catch up with OTA’s.

“Our ultimate outcome is a single system in which we can all work effectively and efficiently and deliver a clicks and mortar experience for our customers,” he said.

A new system will roll out on 1 September, with Burnes already downplaying its effectiveness saying “it’s not the greatest system you’ll see” but ultimately within 5 to 10 years it will be a full suite of functionality for agents and consumers alike.

“If we don’t deliver a clicks and mortar strategy across all our networks and brands to meet the needs of our customers, our businesses will start to shrink in the years ahead.”

“We have to recognise what is coming.”

“Both our technology and our people are going to define us. It’s hard to survive as the lone wolf, we’re all in this together,” Burnes said.

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