Is it just me, or is it tremendous fun watching the Canadian airline biz these days? I mean, the pronouncements are coming faster than Billy Crystal one-liners, and at nearly the speed that Stephen Harper is telling the Chinese "Aw, hell, don't worry about all that human rights stuff; we got oil to sell y'all."
With the threat of federal action (and thank you Mr. Harper for that) looming in the coming months, WestJet cleaned up its advertising last month and started showing folks the "true" cost of an airfare by illustrating the taxes and fees and surcharges and no longer hiding them in fine print.
A week or two ago, the theme was "Our airline is going to New York and we do it better than the other guys." WestJet announced it would fly eight times a day from Toronto Pearson to the highly coveted LaGuardia airport in New York. Air Canada announced it was adding a daily flight from Pearson to LaGuardia and also adding three flights a day from Toronto to New York's JFK airport. Porter bumped up its service to Newark.
This week we saw WestJet announce that nearly every employee they have except three guys in Windsor who stepped out for doughnuts and an elderly couple in Red Deer who didn't understand the question had voted in favour of having WestJet start its new regional airline; the one that's aiming its western boots clearly at Air Canada's wobbly teeth.
A couple hours later, as I recall, Air Canada announced it had found religion and suddenly was embracing "all-in pricing" for its website and its print ads, thus making life easier for Canadian consumers who no longer need a pocket calculator to find out the cost of flying to Vancouver to visit cousin Charlie, even though he insists on bragging about how his tulips bloom in February. Porter jumped in and said it wasn't even going to put the taxes/fees in a separate column but would advertise just a single, all-inclusive fare to make customers even happier than they already are after getting free beer and wine on board served by those adorable flight attendants in pill-box hats.
Then came word on Thursday that Air Canada pilots have called for a strike vote as they debate the company's desire for a low-cost airline to battle the charter companies and fend off any potential foreign invasion from the likes of Britain's Ryan Air. Air Canada lost about $250 million last year, and they've had a tough time with bargaining. The pilot's strike may or may not happen, but it's got to be a drain on the company's mental resources at a time when the upstarts are nipping - and biting and scratching and clawing - at their heels.
Air Canada officials insisted Thursday that all is fine. "It's business as usual," they said.
Hmmm. Turmoil in the markets? Competitors all over them? Labour difficulties? Yeah, I guess it IS business as usual for Canada's best-known airline.
Of course, the cheeky WestJet folks couldn't resist the temptation.
"It's not business as usual at WestJet," they said, announcing a new marketing campaign.
"It's not business as usual for an airline to be owned by more than 80 per cent of its eligible employees. It's not business as usual to call your customers guests, or reward your guests with real dollars they can actually use in a rewards program they can actually understand. We are the only airline that puts out a welcome mat at the door of every aircraft for a reason, and we are here to earn the trust and confidence of travellers one flight at a time."
Starting today, travellers who join WestJet Rewards (formerly the WestJet Frequent Guest Program), and take a WestJet flight before March 31, 2012, will get off to a flying start and receive a welcome bonus of $50 WestJet dollars. For more information, please visit www.westjet.com/rewards."
"WestJet Rewards is just one of many ways we're offering unprecedented value for the business traveller," Bob Cummings continued. "Our revamped, business-focused schedule in the eastern triangle,, combined with our industry-leading on-time service promises, is having a significant impact on travellers in the largest business travel market in Canada. We also begin flying between Toronto and LaGuardia in June, and our growing list of code-share partners across the world, particularly in the U.S., offer business people connections to many of the key destinations they're looking for."
A multi-platform advertising campaign also began Thursday. The campaign, centered on WestJet's challenge of "business as usual," spans print, radio and digital fronts, with many of the ads featuring a letter directly to guests inviting them on board.
"This new campaign is about welcoming travellers to WestJet," Bob Cummings continued. "We are an airline they can trust, an airline that continues to serve their needs, and an airline that wants, appreciates and rewards their business."
Nothing better than a good, old-fashioned bun fight. Can't wait to see what happens next.
NEW ZEALAND ON THE REBOUND
A series of "pop-up" stores - temporary spots serving coffee and selling shoes and other goods - have appeared all over downtown Christchurch, New Zealand, which suffered that devastating earthquake a year ago Feb. 22.
Tourism officials say the "biggest and brightest of the pop-ups is the new Cashel Mall Re:Start Project—a colourful retail precinct of 29 stores, with upscale boutiques, cafés and a department store. It might not be the first shipping container shopping mall in the world, but it is one of the most creative..."
"Created around courtyards and recreational spaces, the mall is a collection of brightly painted containers with glass fronts and balconies with plans to add more shops and cafés over the upcoming months. For current information on Christchurch's pop-up evolution, check out www.popupcity.co.nz."
I was in Napier, New Zealand almost exactly a year ago. It's a city that suffered a devastating earthquake of its own back in 1931 and was rebuilt in an Art Deco style that's made it hugely attractive today. Let's hope Christchurch can do something fun and imaginative of its own. Judging by the pop-up stores, they already have. And maybe it's a goofy idea, but I think they ought to leave a couple of the pop-ups in place for the long term.
Officials tell me 90 per cent of Christchurch's key attractions are still welcoming visitors and that there are still 8,400 guest beds available. At least eight central city hotels will be reinstated this year and in 2013, they say.
If you get a chance, stop in and drop some tourist dollars in town. You'll be doing folks a world of good.