Qantas boss reveals incredible opportunity for Gold Coast
IT'S probably the greatest marvel of the modern age.
Eighty thousand kilos hurtling along at almost 1000km/h.
People transported in hours to destinations that not so long ago took days to reach.
Air travel was something we got so used to. It always amused me that, far from being wowed by the triumph of human achievement that allowed such a journey, people would moan and groan at the slightest inconvenience. The luggage that was slow to arrive on the conveyor belt, the meal that wasn't quite right.
Travelling by plane was no longer a luxury, but part of ordinary life.
It was also one of the foundation stones upon which the Gold Coast was built. Forget about the crane index, it's the plane index that in this city really matters most.
Which is why the ongoing shutdown of travel hurts so much.
This author spent Saturday at a well-known Gold Coast attraction which would rely on interstate tourism. We are getting accustomed to odd scenes, but this was especially strange. There were as many staff as customers. Thanks to Victoria's sudden swerve from a New Zealand to a New York trajectory, the absent Melbourne and Sydney visitors were but ghosts.
That business surely can't hang in there much longer.
Also among those stung by the collapse is Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, whose airline this week halted all services to our city from Sydney. It was a painful decision, given Qantas had high hopes for Gold Coast tourism when it briefly seemed Queensland's borders could safely reopen.
"There's huge pent-up demand," Mr Joyce said. "When we put Jetstar on sale, for the recovery sale, they sold the biggest day of bookings in their history, $19 dollar (flights) went in the space of 15 minutes, 5000 of them to the Gold Coast.
"There were another 35,000 airfares within an hour at $39 to the Gold Coast."
Mr Joyce, speaking last week at Griffith University's inaugural A Better Future for All conversation series at HOTA 48 hours before the border closed to Sydneysiders, said Qantas had already been building up its presence on the Gold Coast before the pandemic hit. In a post-pandemic world, he sees even greater opportunity.
"We had roughly eight million overseas visitors coming into Australia each year," he said. "We had 11 million Aussies going overseas. In theory those Aussies, if you can get them to do domestic tourism for a period of time, will fill that gap. And we need to get them to go to places like the Gold Coast that a lot of international tourists were coming to."
Despite the difficult times, Mr Joyce is ever the optimist. He is the only person your columnist has encountered who has mastered the handshake alternative, the elbow bump, without a hint of awkwardness. This is someone who knows how adapt and thrive, even in adversity.
But there is one thing he needs in coming months to help Qantas and Gold Coast tourism realise at least some of that pent-up potential.
"What we'd like to see, what everyone in the tourism industry would like to see, is real certainty over what's going to happen with borders," Mr Joyce said.
"There's different approaches being taken by different states. In other industries, certainty has been given about what happens, what needs to be seen for gyms to open, cafes to open, events to actually have more people.
"... We all agree that health has to be the top priority. But we always said, and I think it's the National Cabinet's view, that we're not after elimination, we're after suppression. And if we're after suppression, we're going to have the outbreaks that we've had in New South Wales.
"But they are managing it. The numbers were still less than 20 with 30,000 tests taking place, so there are questions about, what are the criteria for closing a border down and what's the criteria again for opening it up if we're going after suppression, which is the strategy."
It is a reasonable request. While now is clearly not the moment for easing restrictions, border closures are a crude instrument to keep us safe. Long term, we need a plan.
Airports, unlike the checkpoints on our roads, are the perfect venues for stopping people, checking details, conducting tests.
There is surely room to devise a COVID-safe plan for the airline industry.
A plan which would get as many of those technological marvels back in the air over the Gold Coast as possible, while keeping Queenslanders safe.
A plan to help venues like the one I visited last Saturday to survive this awful pandemic.
Originally published as Qantas boss reveals incredible opportunity for Gold Coast