Flight Centre’s CMO on being ready to ‘press play’ when travel resumes

Flight Centre Travel Group is anticipating some of its biggest years of growth once Australia’s vaccination rollout gains momentum, travel restrictions ease and international borders re-open.

With travel industry leaders forecasting unprecedented demand for both domestic and international travel as the world moves into a phase of post-COVID management, Flight Centre’s general manager (Australia) Kelly Spencer said the excitement is returning. “We’re preparing for the demand for travel to return with a vengeance.”


Clinton Hearne, head of marketing, Flight Centre

“All our indicators point toward Australian travellers being a resilient bunch and itching to book that next holiday. Our recent customer research shows that 44% intend to book holidays overseas as soon as border openings allow.”

Data and insights pulled from Usabilla API, a data analyst platform which tracks users’ search history and behaviours on Flight Centre’s website, showed that Australians are, more than ever before, active and eager to travel.

In anticipation of increased demand, Flight Centre’s head of marketing, Clinton Hearne told Mumbrella, the company’s marketing arm is already swinging into action. “We’re in big-bang readiness and are very excited about the return of big-ticket travel.

“We use Usabilla API for our website. We go through our marketing channels across the board. Every three to four months we run a very similar report and at the end we might just change a couple of questions just to see if we can see either sentiment changing, destinations, or length of travel changing. In research data, we started to see domestically, people were going under seven days and now that’s gone over seven days.”

Hearne added: “What we see is Australians taking or booking longer holidays, they’re happy to spend more. On the international side, we asked people where they’d want to go if they could. Last November it was Europe winning and then New Zealand closely-followed, but what’s really interesting to me is in our last survey from this year, we saw New Zealand being very much top of people’s minds, Europe is now second.”

Hearne explained that Flight Centre’s marketing team is busier than ever, preparing for a big influx of Australian customers preparing to travel once border restrictions ease.

“We are going through each channel and then really focusing on being ready to press play. How do we have immediate scalability? One border might open, the interstates or another country opens, or we reopen the bubble with New Zealand or multiple countries might open up at once. So, we’ve sort of gone through and gone, ‘Cool. What do we need to do? And what do we know?’ It’s really more of a predictive concept.

From a creative and content point of view, Hearne said Flight Centre’s focus is on the potential ‘bubble countries’ with Australia.

“We’re really looking at, are those key bubble destinations, what do we have ready there? Do we have templates ready that we can go out to market really fast? We did this with New Zealand, and that was very successful.

“We’ve gone through each destination and have it ready to go. We check how we are ranking in certain countries for SEO, if we’re looking at a country and I’ll say, just as an example, Hong Kong, ‘What do we need to be doing to be ready there?’ So, when people are looking up Hong Kong, they can see Flight Centre. If we’re doing paid channels, what does that look like? How do we manually intervene rather than obviously automatic bidding that we’ve been doing, especially in the paid search sort of space, which has been working really well for us,” Hearne explained.

A key aspect that allows Flight Centre to scale-up quickly is marketing automation according to Hearne.  “With our email journeys, not only do we only have them live for right now for domestic, different areas, but different customer segment types,” Hearne said. “How do we have them ready for overseas destinations like Fiji or Singapore?

Flight Centre is predicting a “busy road ahead” so, to help manage its growing media buying activity, its partnered with Rapid Media.

Rapid Media managing director Vaughan O’Connor said his team are looking forward to taking on a greater role with Flight Centre: “Rapid Media has worked with Flight Centre Travel Group across a number of brands and alongside a number of fantastic Flight Centre employees for over six years.

Vaughan O’Connor, managing director, WPP AUNZ’s Rapid Media

“What’s different to most agency offerings is that we’ve got a proprietary technology that we’ve created in the last five years and it’s focussed on media effectiveness and measurement and our attribution modelling process as well, but we’ve got our real time measurement product. Effectively, now the Flight Centre’s global CMO, Darren Wright, will be able to actually see every single market and how it’s performing at any given time with a 24-hour update,” O’Connor explained.

The platform Rapid Media has created is called Informatic Communications Investment (ICI), which gives its client real-time measurement across all markets, at any given time.

“It’s not just digital search and social channels, we have a way of bringing in their above-the-line (ATL) performance as well. And actually getting the insights from that so that we can inform other decisions. So it ladder’s back to a very granular level, we’ve got oversight, even to a perspective of a currency equivalency. So, if we want to hedge it off a specific currency, we go, ‘Okay, where are we getting the best return on investment, and what’s doing it?’ That’s something that now is at our fingertips.

O’Connor added: “We worked on the brand campaign for Flight Centre recently and that got really good results on their tracking of brand perception. We’re not really in the market with retail campaigns because of the disruption that’s going on across borders at the moment. But as soon as immunisations reach a point… once that happens, we’re back to the new way of doing business, which is having this measurement being fully invested in what we’re doing with the creative, and then to be able to pivot quickly as to where we need to go with it.”

In terms of jumping on any vaccination incentives for Australians, Hearne explained Flight Centre is looking at the likes of what Qantas and Luxury Escapes have done.

“It’s very much something that’s being considered. With the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing we’re looking at on-boarding a couple of businesses, because obviously we want to be in that place where customers can come and get their holiday across the board. We’ve on-boarded the ASX-listed Healius, so if customer’s need vaccinations to travel beforehand, they can do so, and we’re pointing customers to the right place to go,” Hearne commented.

Nine, Qantas, Virgin Australia and the Australian Government are taking the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to customers with ads and promotions to encourage Australians to get the jab.

Qantas is offering a range of prizes and perks to encourage Australian citizens to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. Qantas Group CEO, Allan Joyce, said: “I’m optimistic about travel and about tourism here in Australia. I believe there is going to be a big recovery in the tourism industry.”

Joyce revealed that 86% of Qantas Frequent Flyer members said they have intent or have already had their vaccine and he believes they should be rewarded.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.