A more relaxed Virgin Oz revisits its bubbly youth

November 20, 2019
The flying wig.

Passengers should encounter a more relaxed Virgin Australia as it rebalances its focus on leisure and corporate markets and revisits its effervescent youth.

Virgin chief executive Paul Scurrah told the Australian Airports Association annual conference Tuesday the airline was famous for its customer service “and we want to be even more famous for it”.

The move is the gentler side of a hard-edged focus on costs that has seen Scurrah commission a sweeping review of the business, announce the axing of 750 jobs as well as a 2 percent reduction in capacity and the removal from the group’s fleet of five aircraft.

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He also announced a delay in the delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and a decision to buy back a 35 percent stake in the Velocity frequent flyer program.

Passengers would already have seen the lighter touch in quirky new “feel good” television ads featuring a flying wig and a traveling family.

“Throughout our review, one thing we heard loud and clear from our customers is that they want us to be more relaxed,’’ Scurrah told the conference.

“We took that on board. So, this month, we changed our inflight announcements.

“Now, instead of saying ‘good morning ladies and gentlemen’, we now say ‘hi everyone’. We now encourage our crew to call customers by their first name.”

Scurrah said these were “subtle, but important changes symbolizing who we now want to be”.

Other changes included a new Brisbane international lounge called “My Lounge” with a more casual style to cater to leisure travelers who are the majority of passengers heading overseas from the Queensland capital.

“We …  announced new features for our mobile app, including a new booking platform, flight notifications, and access to hotel partner Expedia for accommodation,’’ Scurrah added.

“We’ve also enhanced our self-service kiosks to improve the check-in experience for guests.”

However, the Virgin chief emphasized that this did not mean Virgin would be taking its eye off the ball in the corporate market.

“We will continue to focus on it and compete in it,’’ he said.

“However, we will continue to have a very strong focus on the important leisure market in this country as well.

“We’ll do this through a balance of premium and low-cost products – making sure we put them on the right routes to attract the right market segments.”

“We are focusing Virgin Australia towards routes that have both a strong business and leisure orientation and Tigerair on leisure destinations.’’

speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Scurrah said the airline’s more relaxed stance was cashing in on data saying it was playing well in all parts of the market.

But he said the data had indicated the carrier had become too “one dimensional”.

“Because we have a great airline that operates across all sectors of the market, I think we needed to tell the story and remind people that we are across all sectors of the market,’’ he said.

He noted that the feedback to staff was that people felt good about flying with Virgin “and  that our people are consistently better and consistently happier”.

Scurrah said he had been careful to make sure that he talked about segmentation in a way that he did not denigrate one of the offerings at the expense of the others.

He said the airline had a significant and popular focus on corporate travellers and was holding its own from a market share point of view.

He outlined a number of changes at the airline that included a facility over the last six months to upgrade to Economy X or business from check-in kiosks as part of a move to give people a sense of personalization and control as well as make it a more seamless experience.

“That’s been working really well and it’s a nice revenue earner for us as well,’’ he said.

The flying wig ad has drawn some criticism but Scurrah said he had trusted the experts on the content and the concept was strongly backed by research.

He said the ad was designed to generate emotion in a crowded market and had succeeded.

While acknowledging the ad has had its detractor, he had been told that wasn’t a bad thing because it got people talking.

“It’s got the barbecue discussion going and our brand has been discussed,’’ he said.

“And the message about a renewed focus on families and having an easy feel-good experience is certainly coming out, even though the discussions of people who don’t like the ad.”