Technology

Flight Centre and Qantas named on most innovative companies list

Innovative is one of the most important things a company can be, especially in the travel sector.

Here, we take a look at two innovative Aussie travel companies, and what they’re doing to stay ahead of the game.

Innovation is vital for growth. Whether that be investing in new technologies or unveiling a new flight route, for companies to continue to grow and succeed, they need to constantly be looking towards the next step.

Earlier this year, Qantas was the first (and only) airline to fly from Perth to London, non-stop – over 17 hours in the air.

The airline placed sixth on Collective Campus’ ranking of the 20 most innovative companies on the ASX 200, and the group executive for strategy, innovation and technology for Qantas, Rob Marcolina, told the Australian Financial Review that in the travel industry, companies must innovate to survive.

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“Qantas operates in an industry that is highly volatile and is one of the few industries where prices go down each year, so there is always a constant pressure to do better than we did last year,” he said.

And Qantas may have just released their new 17+ hour route, but they’re already working on an even longer route, from Sydney to London.

Project Sunrise is a partnership with Airbus and Boeing to configure an aircraft that is able to fly such distances. Last week, Singapore Airlines launched its Singapore to New York route, officially claiming the title of the longest flight in the world (almost 19 hours).

While the Perth to London route was a breakthrough, Marcolina added that Qantas still added unique features – to stay competitive and innovative among other airlines.

“We spent a lot of time with the Charles Perkins Institute thinking about sleep patterns, time of eating, lighting, airflow. These type of things allow us to meet customers’ expectations of a great journey to London.

“These are unique to Qantas. So if someone else happened to come on that route, we need to make sure we are building a competitive advantage beyond the aircraft itself,” he said.

One travel company building a competitive advantage for themselves is Flight Centre – who have continually innovated to suit their customers evolving needs.

Last month, they became the first company in the Asia Pacific to participate in Sabre’s game-changing Beyond NDC Program. The New Distribution Capability program is basically a messaging system – and James Kavanagh, executive general manager of Flight Centre, told Travel Weekly the company’s involvement in the program will allow them to be at the forefront of developments with their airline partners.

“NDC is an enabler that helps support the airline’s overall distribution strategy,” he said.

“NDC-style offerings are an exciting new initiative, particularly when they can be developed in unison with the GDS (global distribution system), which is what we are seeing with the Sabre Beyond NDC program that we are involved in.

“We strongly believe that this style of program is the way of the future and are pleased to be involved.”

Flight Centre has also been developing a ton of other customer-focused tech developments this year, including online booking tools, mobile apps, and their AI-driven chatbot, SAM.

“New tools we’re seeing in the market like our AI-driven mobile chatbot SAM, FCM’s Connect technology suite and our new online booking tool Savi, which is being developed in conjunction with our partners at Serko, are all super personalised and gives the customer a much more enjoyable and easier online experience,” Kavanagh added.

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SAM stands for ‘Smart Assistant for Mobile’ and is a pocket travel assistant that helps business travellers with everything from itinerary management, bookings, service and support. The app is designed to help make business travel easy by employing a blend of AI and integrated consultant support and expertise.

Qantas is also branching out into other areas, including offering financial and insurance services leveraging both its data and brand. According to Marcolina, innovation has played – and will continue to play – a critical role in the company’s transformation.

“There is no way we would have been able to do that without us essentially institutionalising and increasing the robustness of that innovation culture and allowing our people – and almost expecting our people – to do things in a different way,” he told the Australian Financial Review.

“Now we are democratising innovation – this is not the domain of a dark black room on the ground floor. It’s about ensuring every one of the 30,000 people in the company understands there is opportunity to innovate and an expectation to innovate – and that will allow us to have a sustainable business going forward and that’s what creates a lot of energy in the company.”

Oh, and speaking of innovation – it’s one of the categories at this year’s inaugural Australian Travel Awards!

This awards programme is a brand new way to celebrate all the companies and people that make the travel industry so damn amazing. Plus, it’s a sure-fire way to end the year with a bang, surrounded by all your fave industry pals. Grab your tickets here.

The Australian Travel Awards will be held on Friday, November 30 at Paddington Town Hall, Sydney. Grab your early bird tickets here and find all the nitty gritty details on the website here.


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