By James Wilkinson
Virgin Blue’s share of the MICE market in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, thanks to new product offerings and a higher focus than ever before on servicing group bookings.
Virgin Blue’s Mathias Friess (in red) with cabin crew
New routes to Bali and Los Angeles, increased Premium Economy inclusions and a larger dedicated group sales team are a number of ways that the new world carrier is stealing a greater share of the MICE market than ever before.
Speaking exclusively to SpiceNews onboard Pacific Blue’s launch flight from Brisbane to Honiara recently, Virgin Blue general manager, sales and distribution, Mathias Friess, said at the end of the day it comes down to service, reliability and reach.
“MICE business is something where the traveller has different needs compared to an individual traveller,” he said. “The biggest thing first of all is people travel as groups and people are not necessarily looking for the cheapest fare.
“People are looking for the right offering and the right destinations and the capabilities of transporting enough people around or out of the country to a certain spot at the same time.
“At the end of the day it’s about reliability and understanding the business needs,” he said.
Friess said Virgin Blue “only started two years ago identifying that the MICE business is something we want to be participating in”.
In the last several years, Virgin Blue has evolved from a low-cost carrier to a new world carrier – one that can effectively service group bookings and offer a full schedule of flights across Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
“A lot of the new markets we have developed recently – like Bali and several Pacific Islands – are big markets for our MICE business,” he said.
“Take Fiji alone – Virgin Blue now flies to Fiji 16 times per week from the east coast of Australia and that makes us a viable player in this market. On top of that we have the feed from the entire country to Brisbane and Sydney to get people there,” Friess said.
The Bali services from Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth not only marked Virgin Blue’s inaugural flights into Asia, but saw Premium Economy offered on Pacific Blue flights for the first time.
“Going forward we are looking to expand that offering,” Friess said. “Denpasar is a market where it (Premium Economy) is much needed – and we do see the uptake on flights such as Brisbane-Bali with a five- to six-hour flight time where people do want to pay the extra dollars to sit in comfort.
“Based on the success of that market, we do want to roll out the product to other markets in the Pacific Islands – places like Fiji, Vanuatu and long-range flights to Tonga and Samoa. These are the markets where Premium Economy seats will be picked up very fast,” he said.
Long-range flights within Australia – such as Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to Perth – are the most popular for Premium Economy and based on this Friess is expecting the Pacific flights to succeed with the new product.
“There is a sizeable business out there where people want to travel to certain in a premium seat,” he said. “Our premium offering now is a business-like product which allows you to have all inclusive meals, drinks, in-flight entertainment and the whole thing comes at a price point that is much less than a fully-flexible ticket on Qantas.”
With the roll-out of Premium Economy on Virgin Blue and the rapid expansion of Pacific Blue complete for now, the next big focus for the group is the launch of Sydney-Los Angeles flights on February 27 by sister carrier V Australia (see separate story on today’s SpiceNews).
Friess said there have been a number of large group bookings for V Australia, which is meeting expectations for the new airline.
He has a simple message for planners looking to book conferences and meetings in the USA during 2009 and beyond.
“Anyone who is planning a meeting or conference in the United States should consider V Australia for one simple reason – we are a brand new airline and our flights aren’t full yet. We have started with a clean sheet and if you want a good deal, come and do business with us,” Friess said.
For group bookings on Virgin Blue, Pacific Blue and V Australia, visit http://www.virginblue.com.au/Personal/Bookings/Groups/index.htm