Destination report: Australasia
A "can-do" attitude coupled with healthy financial prospects makes Australia and New Zealand great place to do business, says Jonathan Hart
It was a gloomy Monday during the last recession. "You've got a visa so get yourself down there," growled the MD. "Get that deal buttoned and we'll see you back here before close of play on Friday."
No-one argued with the boss back then. No social concerns or niceties. No tinkering with travel options or policy with a travel management company (TMC). No waiting to try the Airbus A380 or the weather to be right. Just get there and get it fixed. Now.
So I dutifully flew to Australia, hopped on a couple of internal flights, got the matter sorted and flew straight back. Something like 50 hours in the air for fewer than five on the ground. Strewth.
Communications and video conferencing have made a quantum leap forward since. So it should be easier to wrap up things from a desk, without the associated travel costs or the jetlag. Or is it?
It is often argued when times are tough, costs are critical, hands-on due diligence is paramount and the only really effective way of doing business is face-to-face rather than through cyberspace, local agents or expensive third parties.
True or not and combined with a high-end leisure trip which airlines and hotels are increasingly twinning with corporate travel marketing, that argument could be excuse enough for still-optimistic road warriors to justify a holiday-cum-business excursion Down Under.
An added inducement when it comes to leaving the beach or winery and getting down to work being that doing business in Australia, as it is in New Zealand, is virtually the same as doing business in the UK, with the same language and with similar nuances and legalities.
Bad enough that both countries, along with many in Asia/Pacific, are in the economic doldrums right now, although nowhere as close to the UK to being a basket case. But at least there's no real cultural divide, no time wasting and, crucially, still reasonable exchange rates - unlike, for example, in parts of North Asia (for which Australia remains a primary conduit) where cultural and linguistic differences can often make things a little more difficult.
In contrast, negotiating face to face Down Under can be the equivalent of negotiating across the garden fence, however rickety it currently may be. It's the slap-on-the-back, let's-go-get-a-beer approach where you both know the territory and can swiftly cut to the chase with people also likely to be sharing a mutual disdain for being led up the economic garden path by lame duck leaders, incompetent banks and bureaucratic bungling.
On top of traditional ties and an easy-going camaraderie that puts sports rivalry at the top of a chummy social agenda, Australia and New Zealand also rank high in the World Bank Doing Business 2009 report. Australia ranks ninth globally for ease of doing business and third for starting a business. New Zealand performs even better on the index, ranking number two in the world after Singapore for (ease of) doing business and number one for starting a business.
Overseas prospectors and local exporters alike may remain cautious as the new governments of each country stand on trial for their ability to introduce fiscal stimuli and forestall the worst of the global financial crisis. Nonetheless, according to most analysts, both appear better equipped than the UK to weather the current storm thanks to at least partially-regulated banks and, until recently, trade surpluses. What's more, both are expected to continue to grow, if more modestly than previously, through 2009.
That doesn't mean to say that Aussies, with at best two per cent growth, are not crying into their tinnies due to inflation and unsettling downturns in mining and property. But they are still popping pills, reading voraciously and buying cars, which is good for UK business - pharmaceuticals are by far and away Britain's biggest export to Australia, according UK Trade & Investment, followed by books and motors. In return, as part of two-way trade worth roughly £7 billion a year, the UK imports a disproportionate amount of gold, alcohol and coal. But that's only part of the story, says UKTI.
Cultural ties coupled with development partnerships and a similar approach to environmental and social issues, including the assimilation of multiculturalism, assure a mutually solid trading future between long-standing partners in a multiplicity of fields.
New Zealand, which shares possibly even stronger cultural ties and social parallels to the UK, faces even slower economic growth this year although, fingers crossed, this does not preclude continuing two-way trade worth some £364 million a year, with New Zealand importing chiefly pharmaceuticals and automotive and power generating equipment, and exporting sheep meat, wine and wool.
Ultimately, perhaps, it will be shared soft currencies, with the pound forecast to continue trading at roughly two-to-one against their respective dollars, that underscores travel and trade between the UK, Australia and New Zealand in recession.
Whisper it, but the iconic kangaroo gracing Australia's Airbus A380s now serving London could eventually hop out from Heathrow. Rumours circulating at Qantas headquarters suggest the superjumbo may ultimately be better suited to partner Jetstar as a bulk low-cost aircraft on the Kangaroo Route, leaving larger premium cabins to be developed aboard new Boeing 787s.
The dual brand carrier has 65 Dreamliners on order and options on a total 115 of the new Boeing aircraft, with the first four due for delivery this year and 28 by 2011.
In contrast, Qantas now has three A380s in service, increasing from May to eight by the end of this year and 20 in 2013.
The A380 has been operating since mid-January on selected flights between London and Sydney via Singapore. QF31 operates outbound from Sydney on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and QF32 from London on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The aircraft is configured with 450 seats in four cabin classes. There are 14 'private suites' in First and 72 fully-flat Skybeds in Business. Premium Economy has 32 extra wide seats with greater recline and legroom, and there are 332 newly-designed Economy seats.
Jetstar has proved a major success story in the Asia/Pacific region for Qantas, which late last year abandoned global consolidation merger talks with long-standing pool and alliance partner, BA, via a dual-listed company structure.
Former Jetstar chief executive Alan Joyce, 42, recently took over as chief executive at 88-year-old Qantas, succeeding Geoff Dixon who has retired, and fuelling talk of closer convergence of the two brands to meet future market demands and optimise new fuel-efficient aircraft.
"We have many options," says Joyce. "While each airline is hugely valuable in its own right, the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts."
Australia: South-east (New South Wales, ACT, Victoria) and south-west (Western Australia), generally temperate with temperatures averaging 20°C; warmest in January, coldest in June.
North-west (Northern Territories, Queensland), ranging from equatorial through tropical to subtropical, with high rainfall in coastal regions, arid desert interior.
New Zealand: temperate with moderately high rainfall and temperatures ranging from 20°-30°, hottest from December to February. Winter temperatures can fall below freezing in mountainous South Island.
UK Trade & Investment, www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk; Australian Business, www.australianbusiness.co.uk; New Zealand Chambers of Commerce, www.nzchamber.co.nz; FCO, www.fco.gov.uk
Australia: all visitors must have a (tourist) visa, £12, www.visas-australia.com. Free of charge visa applications on EU e-visitor online service, www.immi.gov.au/visitors
New Zealand: UK citizens eligible to a visa-free stay of up to six months. In some cases, a long-term business visa may be required, www.assessments.visabureau.com
Australia: (east coast) GMT + 11
Zealand: GMT +13
Zealand: NZ$2.7=£1 (both as of Jan 09)
Public holidays from March 2009
Australia: dates vary according to individual states.
For New South Wales: April 10-13 Easter, 25 Anzac Day; June 8 Queen's Birthday; August 3 bank holiday; October 5 Labour Day; December 25 Christmas Day, 26 Boxing Day.
New Zealand: April 10-13 Easter, 25 Anzac Day; June 1 Queen's Birthday; October 26 Labour Day; December 25 Christmas Day, 26 Boxing Day.
Ongoing threat of indiscriminate terrorist attacks.
Australia: call 000
New Zealand: call 111 for police, fire and ambulance
Airlines to Australasia
Australia: Qantas flies from the UK to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Darwin. BA, Virgin, Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines fly to Sydney. Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates and SIA serve Melbourne. Lufthansa and fly to Adelaide; Emirates and Etihad to Brisbane; and Emirates, and Lufthansa to Perth.
New Zealand: Air new Zealand flies twice daily to Auckland via either Hong Kong or Los Angeles. Alliance partners BA/Qantas fly daily via Los Angeles. Auckland is also served by daily or more services from the UK by Cathay Pacific, SIA, Korean Air and Emirates via their gateways. Korean Air and Emirates also fly to Christchurch.
Sydney Kingsford Smith: 9km south of the city centre, £30 by limousine, £12 by taxi, £6 by bus and £5 by train. Airport Link train (journey 15 mins) departs every 10 mins from domestic terminal, linked by shuttle bus (£1.50) with TI international terminal.
Brisbane International: 8km north-east of downtown by taxi (£16), bus (£6) and train (£7). Airtrain, serving Central Station and Gold Coast, departs every 15 mins weekdays from international and domestic terminals linked by shuttle bus (£1.50) and taxi (£5).
Melbourne Tullamarine: 25km north-east of city centre, about £25 by taxi or £12 open return by Skybus, departing every 15 mins daytime to city centre and main hotels. A walkway links the airport's two terminals.
Adelaide International: 6km west of downtown, about £10 by metered taxi or £5 by Skylink bus departing every 30 mins to city centre and most hotels. The airport's three terminals are linked by shuttle bus.
Perth International: 12km north-east of the city. Taxi fares to centre (£15) or suburbs are set and payable in advance at airport. Bus to city centre or airport- city shuttle bus to centre and hotels depart frequently from both terminals, linked by shuttle bus (£3) or taxi.
Auckland International: 20km south of city centre, about £30 and 30 mins by taxi. Airport Shuttle is a shared vehicle system, about £12 for one person or £15 for two. Airbus departs every 20 mins during day and every 30 mins during evenings. One way fare is about £6 (£10 return). The airport's two terminals are linked by walkway (10 mins) and free shuttle bus.