The Qantas lounge is no longer so suite

The Qantas Lounge is a great representation of how wilful complacency can neglect the core demographic and strangle evolution of the product.



Nobody really likes travelling for business. It’s time-consuming, it’s tiring, and there’s very little to like about either being at airports or aboard planes.

It’s a different situation when you’re travelling for holidays, or if you ever travelled as a kid. I remember my parents took me on a trip to Brisbane, and because my dad was a member of the Qantas Club, I got to go in with him. And what a thrill it was – you act all grown up, and there were Iced VoVos. For free! What kid wouldn’t love that?

Shiny as it sounds, a significant amount of the sheen has come off it – and I’m not alone in thinking this.

Stuart (surname withheld) works for one of the larger Australian federal government agencies, and like me, spends a lot of time travelling. Usually about 70 domestic flights per year.

A Qantas Club member since 1995, he presently has ‘Gold’ status; with four more flights he’ll once again attain the much-vaunted ‘Platinum’ grade. The question of ‘status’ when it comes to such programs is a simple equation: the more you fly, the higher your status goes, and with the status come the perks.


Qantas’ lounge is just one example of how complacency on a company’s part ends up neglecting the core demographic of its business, while underscoring the importance of evolution in business.


“To maintain Gold, you need 600 status points,” he told me, “but to achieve and maintain Platinum it’s 1400 status points. That means a lot of flying.

“Gold is pretty basic; it’s just free lounge access and priority boarding. Of course, the Qantas site lists numerous benefits. But there are only two.

“The concept of ‘frequency’ is completely lost – baked potatoes every single day, even these are often undercooked. Food choices don’t change, only the soup.

“Recently, I’ve started to consider not using the lounge at all. It’s easier to find somewhere quiet to sit in the airport – often an issue in the lounge – and I get a wider food experience.

“The interesting thing is that I can fly 60-70 times a year with Qantas and only receive Gold membership with access to the lounge, whereas someone who barely flies can pay to have the same experience as me.

“They need to seriously revisit the program and re-think the concept of ‘frequency’ where people like me are in lounges at least four times a week, but still getting the same thing over, and over again.”

This idea goes to the very heart of ‘customer service’. Qantas’ lounge is just one example of how complacency on a company’s part ends up neglecting the core demographic of its business, while underscoring the importance of evolution in business.

The Qantas Club was designed to make you feel special: arrive early for your flight; feel important; take your time getting ready for your flight or freshening up.

Today, I just grab an Iced VoVo as a little biscuit-shaped reminder of how good the place use to be, and like Stuart, head to where it is quieter. Gone is the element of surprise and delight.

The national carrier seems to have lost its way; Stuart and I agree on that – and we’re not alone. But to be fair (to this massive corporation), the market has changed since the vaunted VoVo days of my youth. The airlines have been deregulated, flying is cheaper. As a result, more people do it, they are busy, they work globally, and they require different things while in transit.

I’m in the business of change. There is currently a lot of work being done in this space by people who are misguided in thinking that once the transformation is complete, we have arrived. I often hear businesses talk about transformation as a destination, a finish line. But there is an underlying need to set up organisations, people and culture to ensure this change is maintained at pace.

It would seem as though Qantas hasn’t caught up with the rate of external factors influencing their service offering. They created their destination (ironically, one which is used prior to departure), but through all-but “walking away” from the operation once it’s established ignores the fact that business needs to constantly evolve, adapt, change with the times and understand how external factors should influence their internal operations.

Many businesses set their transformation program to occur across several years. They set clear objectives for where they want to be and how they want the organisation to look.

What they don’t take into consideration is the fact that this ‘longer-term’ view of goal setting doesn’t consider the external influences that may change the way they should do business in the meantime. Is the operating model or business model they’re planning now guaranteed to work in the future?

How are they learning to adapt amid an age of change, while ensuring their transformation is an agile one enabling the absorption of, and response to the chaotic rate that change occurs?

‘Business transformation’ is often seen as a strategic way to focus on (previously overlooked) areas of the business that require acceleration to come up to speed with the current market’s demands. But it should also create value, and include continuous improvement, or business agility, that perpetually enables, anticipants and delivers change.

Qantas have an opportunity to adapt, and bring about a change process reflective of the circumstances that surround them. They need to think not only about what their rewards and lounge programs need to do, but where they need to be in years to come, and what they will do in the meantime. If they were operating in a monopoly, this wouldn’t necessarily be of concern to them.

But I’ll bet you an Iced VoVo that flamboyant British entrepreneur standing nearby may have a thing or two to say about that.


Josephine Otimi is Business Change Architect, Strategy Interpreter, Experience Designer and the founder and CEO of Evolve Management Co.


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