Virgin Atlantic is experiencing increased demand for flights into and out of Sydney as long-haul travel continues to bounce back.
WORDS JAMES WILKINSON
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is experiencing increased demand on both inbound and outbound routes as the long-haul travel market continues to bounce back.
Virgin Atlantic General Manager – Australia, Luke Fisher, said the airline is performing well on routes to and from Sydney, with Hong Kong in particular a firm favourite for the leisure, business, conference and incentive segments.
“We’re currently performing well,” he told HM. “Traffic is up approximately 10% on last year and loads to Hong Kong and London are pretty steady – we don’t really see too much of a peak and trough scenario any more – it’s pretty constant year-round.
“We’re definitely seeing a recovery of the long haul travel market compared to last year, particularly in the premium cabins.
“I expect the recovery to continue through the rest of the year and the focus of Virgin Atlantic as a whole is to consolidate our position post-GFC,” he said.
Fisher said Hong Kong’s popularity for sporting events – including the Hong Hong Sevens and the upcoming Australia versus New Zealand Bledisloe Cup game in October – was proving to be a major drawcard for both individuals and groups during 2010.
“We’re consistently full in and around the Hong Kong Sevens with group bookings and corporates going up for the best weekend of the year,” he said. “But that aside, Hong Kong hosts a variety of events that are appealing for groups – for example in October, Hong Kong will play host to the Bledisloe Cup, the food and wine festival and the best Halloween party in Asia.
“Generally, groups and MICE bookings to Hong Kong will always be a lucrative market to us simply because of the desirability of Hong Kong as a destination.
“As incentive based programs slowly start to come back to the market we saw a strong uptake on first quarter bookings for the year.
“While groups and the MICE segment looked closer to home last year, we’re seeing Asia/Pacific return to the radar.
“The recent political instability in Thailand has also seen a shift to Hong Kong too,” he said.
Not just for the MICE market, Fisher said Hong Kong generally was proving to be a hot destination for all segments.
“Hong Kong continues to be our focus destination from Australia, with around half of the cabin disembarking in Hong Kong while the rest travel through to London,” he said.
“We enjoy a healthy blend of corporate, VFR (visiting friends and relatives), MICE and Leisure traffic to Hong Kong, while all the time focusing on the corporate market to fill the front of the plane.
“I’m pleased that our recent Australian Government travel tender win will help achieve this too,” he said.
Not just for Hong Kong, Fisher said Virgin Atlantic has also experienced demand for Europe, particularly to the airline’s home base of London.
“With Hong Kong and London both classed as ‘high end’ within the incentive arena, and with Virgin Atlantic offering three unique cabins to suit every budget and need, we feel that we’re in a great position to support the groups/MICE segment with our typical Virgin flair and personality.
“Our sales in the groups/MICE area compared to last year have doubled and I put this down to our ability to think creatively and be that left of centre airline that people want to experience.
“We have a superb sales team in Sydney that focus on relationship building and adding a personal touch to travel planning,” he said.
Fisher said the airline has continued to stimulate group bookings all year, a move applauded by hoteliers in both Sydney and Hong Kong.
“For every 20 seats booked to either Hong Kong or London, the MICE booker along with a partner of their choice wins a trip to Hong Kong on us,” he said. “In addition, one of our most popular initiatives is our annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens incentive – for bookings of more than 50 seats, the booker goes in the draw to win a Hong Kong sevens experience with Virgin Atlantic.”