QBT Embarks on Next Phase

"No one thought we were in the game, but we just got on with the job. It was a shock." says Russell Carstensen, general manager QBT group.

QBTWith Russell Carstensen, General Manager QBT group

QBT is no stranger to shaky ground, failing to make a profit for over three decades. But QBT group general manager Russell Carstensen has heralded the Whole of Australian Government (WoAG) contract as a new chapter for the business that will open new doors for the Helloworld-owned TMC.

The four-year contract, which officially came into effect at the end of last month, sees QBT replace five TMCs to become the sole provider of travel management services for the government’s entire operations. Discussing the deal at an intimate round table event with Amadeus managing director Tony Carter, Carstensen candidly spoke of the company’s struggles, claiming that QBT was on the brink of collapse before he took over operations three years ago.

“QBT hadn’t made a profit for 36 years and we were worried if the business would survive,” he said, adding that it would have been “hard to stay in the game” without securing the WoAG contract. Marking the largest travel contract ever awarded in the history of Australia, he said the deal was “ground zero” for the reformed QBT.

The past three years have signalled some major changes for the TMC including a management shuffle and a “massive overhaul” to turn the business’s balance sheet around. Coming off such a transition, Carstensen said the industry was surprised when QBT won the contract, trumping a number of big players who participated in the tender including HRG, Flight Centre, CWT and American Express.

He also insisted that QBT won the tender on its own merits: “There is some talk in the industry that we were the cheapest [tender], but we won because we were the best value and could provide services that other TMCs couldn’t … No one thought we were in the game, but we just got on with the job. It was a shock.”

Commenting on why the government went with QBT, Carstensen said automated booking tools which were developed in conjunction with Amadeus were a key factor, along with compliance and proper governance. In a thinly veiled reproach of other TMCs, Carstensen said transparency was crucial in landing the deal, adding that QBT was happy to “open the books” to the government.

“Transparency will be the next big thing in the industry, and other TMCs will be worried about it. The smoke and mirrors in the industry is surprising – and that’s across the entire industry,” he told travelBulletin.

Looking forward, Carstensen is ambitious, claiming he would like QBT’s business to increase five-fold within the next five years. “We want to be back in the game. It doesn’t take an American company to be the best in the world, and we can be,” he said. He also acknowledged that the business would have to rebrand “at some point,” with QBT no longer directly aligned with Qantas. “We will probably have to rebrand as the Q is no longer relevant, but that is not our focus at the moment,” he concluded.

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