THE travel agent community was given a rare insight into the thinking of Webjet CEO John Guscic last month, with the company’s recent addition to the ranks of AFTA prompting an opportunity for an interview with the leader of Australia’s only listed online travel agent (OTA). Speaking to travelBulletin publisher Bruce Piper, Guscic addressed the elephant in the room as he was invited to explain the rationale behind the controversial Webjet TV advertisements of 2016 which derided bricks and mortar travel agents.
The outspoken Guscic defended the move as a riposte to a similarly aggressive advertisement which was released by AFTA as part of the 2014 launch of the AFTA Travel Accreditation Scheme. Making it clear he did not believe an apology was necessary, Guscic said the Webjet advertisements focused on the convenience and choice offered by an online player — but also made it clear that he is completely cognisant of the value that traditional agents play too.
“Webjet does what offline travel agents can’t do — you can go on our website at three in the morning and book a ticket, that’s the convenience we offer and there’s no argument about that. And you’ve got choice — clearly, in an online environment where you can connect to every available airline through technology and get instantaneous results,” he said.
“But you get a whole lot of other things from a travel agent…a curated response, an intimate relationship and an offer that’s specific to the needs of the person that’s sitting across the table,” Guscic said. “Travel agents add tremendous value,” he added, saying that prior to AFTA’s initial advertisement “I’d always felt we’d operated in a collective travel ecosphere alongside everyone else in the industry”.
The Webjet CEO said that his philosophy had always been for the company to run its own race and not get involved with the cut and thrust of the rest of the industry. But fast-forwarding to 2020 and the impact of COVID-19, that’s all changed — hence the decision to join AFTA, ATAS and ultimately take a place on the Federation’s board of directors.
“We as an industry are under tremendous pressure as a consequence of this thing that is nobody’s fault. It’s a scenario that nobody could envisage. Having a unified voice to contribute, to ensure that we as a travel industry survive and thrive — it made sense at this point in time to contribute to that,” he said. Guscic noted that in recent months Webjet had worked alongside other bodies to lobby the government, the ACCC and others around refunds. “I think we’ve contributed very positively to that conversation. Clearly we have self-interest, but it’s happened for everyone’s benefit.”
Guscic was clearly aware that he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, admitting he would be the “most inappropriate person in our organisation to put on the board”. Instead Webjet’s Chief Operating Officer, Shelley Beasley, has taken on the AFTA role “and we are delighted to be part of it,” he said.
“We are on a war footing as an industry, and we want to contribute to the survival of the industry,” he concluded.