Royal Air Maroc has become the first African member of oneworld. Why did you wait so long to take this step?

Rob Gurney – It was a matter of finding the right candidate and being able to identify mutual benefits. I think there was a kind of confluence of events. Royal Air Maroc entered into a partnership with Qatar Airways, one of our largest member airlines. This facilitated a deeper collaboration between the company’s management, oneworld and its members. Also, Royal Air Maroc had very ambitious development plans, especially in terms of fleet growth. And the quality of the product was recognized by a rapid progression in the Skytrax ranking. So it was an alignment between the right candidate, the right timing… Would we have liked to welcome a powerful African airline ten years ago? Of course! But first we have to look at the forces at work, the companies available, and the networks of each. Royal Air Maroc ticked a lot of boxes, with the support of the Kingdom of Morocco, which wants to make the company a strategic tool for the development of the Moroccan economy. There is really a vision, an ambition of the company, especially on the African continent. Some of our ambitions have come up against the difficulties caused by the pandemic. But I know that they will be put back on track as soon as the situation allows.

Are you now satisfied with your coverage of the African continent or are you keeping an eye on other companies?

Rob Gurney – We are very happy with what Royal Air Maroc brings to the table. But there are always developments that we have to keep an eye on, situations that change over time. So we have to keep an eye on the African landscape as a whole, even if at the moment we are focused on supporting Royal Air Maroc in their development projects.

What role does Africa play in oneworld’s strategy for the coming years?

Rob Gurney – We know that the development of the African continent will be very important in the 21st century in terms of travel, given the population involved, the resources, the economic progress… It is therefore crucial for an alliance such as oneworld to consolidate its positions in a market where business and attractiveness will grow exponentially, particularly in business traffic, but also in tourism.

the “western hemisphere” airlines will look more to the east and south.

Does Africa have the potential to offset the volume declines in traditionally strong markets affected by the crisis?

Rob Gurney: I can’t speak for any of the companies in the alliance, but having spoken to various CEOs, their revenues have been so impacted! So they are looking to diversify their revenue streams.

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It’s easier said than done, it depends on a lot of parameters, but I do think that companies in the “Western Hemisphere” will look more to the East and to the South. It’s easier said than done, depending on a lot of parameters, but I do think that companies in the “Western Hemisphere” will look more to the East and to the South.

oneworld Rob Gurney during a press conference in Lagos on March 25 (Photo FG)

What role did an alliance like oneworld play during the two years of the pandemic? If the same crisis occurred today, would you act differently?

Rob Gurney – There are always lessons to be learned from crisis situations. I think basically the response would be the same. But I would say we would react faster. In March 2020, we all thought that this crisis would be measured in months, not years… As an alliance, we worked on strategies for a post-Covid recovery, we supported our member companies, including leveraging resource coordination. You can imagine what the job of an airline CEO might have looked like in March, April or May 2020… Almost overnight, they had to cut into their networks, make very quick decisions to restructure the company, often difficult decisions for employees… All while integrating all these new health protocols. So we set up a task force with representatives from the health sector, technology, customer service and the legal department. And together we thought about strategies that would allow us to get out of the crisis and bounce back. We did it fairly quickly, and we worked well together to project ourselves over six, twelve or even 18 months. Our work focused in particular on test protocols, and then on certification to cross borders: a complex subject, insofar as the rules differed from country

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to country, and changed regularly… We also worked with IATA, as well as with the other alliances, because it was a problem common to the entire industry. It was no longer a question of competition between Star Alliance, Skyteam and oneworld: our sector is going through an existential crisis. So we need to work together to see what we can do to support our industry, and to limit the impact of this crisis as much as possible.

How has the crisis changed oneworld?

Rob Gurney – The crisis has made it clearer than ever before that member companies need to address certain issues, and in particular certain expense items, collectively rather than individually. There has been a real change in philosophy. This includes the FAS issue, which our sustainability office within oneworld is working on. I expect us to make more use of our collective potential, our joint expertise, and to avoid duplicating efforts.

that companies A, B and C go to the same technology provider, to agree upstream. Ultimately, it is also beneficial for the technology partners to work more strategically, more efficiently. The other evolution that I have noticed over the last two years concerns the management of the alliance, for more efficient decision-making. In the same way that a single person can decide how to organize a vacation, which restaurant to choose, as a group of travelers, a single company can make decisions more quickly. In an alliance, you have to take into account the views of the other member airlines, and facing the challenges of the last two years has pushed us to make decisions more quickly than before. This is a significant change, and I am pleased with the progress we have made. Especially since I’m an impatient person, I like to get things done quickly!

new business travel formats will emerge

When do you expect travelers, especially business travelers, to return?

Rob Gurney – There is a combination of factors, with product and service sophistication for meeting planning. At the same time, some sectors are very affected financially, but some areas have seen a real boom with the crisis. Finally, there is also the sustainable commitment, which some business travelers are making themselves by seeking to reduce their carbon footprint. No one really knows when we will get back to 2019 levels. Maybe 2024 or 2025? But there will likely be a replacement of business travel with other means of exchange. There will also be new business travel formats that will emerge. Because employees can now live in a city other than the one where their company is located. And teams will have to meet face-to-face on a regular basis, contributing to new travel that would not have taken place before. With remote communication, the ability to observe certain things, body language for example, the ability to interact is not the same. In a Zoom meeting, you can’t meet up with someone at a coffee break and ask them for clarification on something they said earlier. Videoconferencing works well for people who already know each other well, not for a presentation to a new client, or for very complex topics. It would be very surprising if companies didn’t see the need for and value of a face-to-face meeting.