Virgin keeps door open on meeting rooms, as Qantas makes an exit

As Qantas bids bon voyage to all its airport meeting rooms, rival Virgin Australia is retaining five of its own.

By Chris Chamberlin, March 22 2021
Virgin keeps door open on meeting rooms, as Qantas makes an exit
Executive Traveller exclusive

Qantas has permanently ditched its once-popular airport meeting rooms, but rival Virgin Australia isn't following suit and will re-open meeting facilities in Melbourne, Canberra and Perth, an airline spokesperson confirms.

When that will be, however, remains up in the air.

It's an interesting play for Virgin Australia, which is repositioning itself as a 'mid-market' carrier rather than a full-service brand: particularly when its full-service opponent has exited that 'meeting room' arena.

But for Virgin's new owner Bain Capital, it's an opportunity to drive revenue from facilities that have already been built, and that reside within lounges the airline continues to operate.

Virgin Australia's airport meeting rooms

Virgin Australia began 2020 with meeting rooms across seven terminals at six airports.

As the year progressed, some lounges permanently closed, and the meeting rooms within them followed suit.

Perth would be the first domino to fall, with Virgin's Terminal 2 lounge – housing one meeting room – pronounced shut in August 2020, after having been temporarily closed since March.

That was followed in November 2020 with the closure of the airline’s lounges in Cairns, Darwin and Mackay, where meeting rooms had also been offered.

Virgin Australia's Darwin Airport meeting room offered a private place to work, amid plenty of natural light.
Virgin Australia's Darwin Airport meeting room offered a private place to work, amid plenty of natural light.

As well, Virgin Australia has ended the lease on its 'overflow lounge' at Brisbane Airport, known by some as the 'cafe lounge', although Executive Traveller understands the airline can resume this lease if the space becomes needed and hasn't otherwise been claimed.

In the years gone by, Brisbane's overflow lounge had provided additional seating for guests at peak times, and before that, was home to the airline's meeting rooms.

What remains now in Virgin's meeting room portfolio is a small four-person space at Canberra Airport, two rooms in Perth Airport's Terminal 1, and two rooms at Melbourne Airport: including a flagship boardroom boasting tarmac views.

Virgin Australia's largest meeting room at Melbourne Airport offers an unbeatable vista.
Virgin Australia's largest meeting room at Melbourne Airport offers an unbeatable vista.

Executive Traveller understands that one roadblock to their reopening is the current requirement to wear masks at all times within airport terminals, except when eating and drinking.

This significantly reduces the appeal of hosting meetings at the airport, when organising the same elsewhere – even at a nearby airport hotel – would not currently be met with the same restriction.

Virgin Australia meeting room pricing

Prior to the pandemic, Virgin Australia's meeting room charges were significantly lower than Qantas', but assumed that attendees would already have Virgin Australia lounge access.

This made them more of an 'upgrade' from the regular lounge space, rather than a destination in their own right.

Most bookings ran at $50 per hour, except the flagship boardroom at Melbourne Airport, which sold for $100/hr.

To use a meeting room, attendees also needed to have access to the Virgin Australia lounge itself, whether by way of lounge membership, travel ticket, frequent flyer status, or as the guest of an eligible member.

Delegates attending meetings beyond these entitlements – or when booking a meeting room when not otherwise able to visit the lounge – were charged a per-person fee, in addition to room hire.

In Canberra and Perth, this charge was $55, or $65 in Melbourne.

Virgin Australia is yet to reveal any changes to these prices, but as these facilities are temporarily closed – and its competitors rooms stay permanently shut – the airline isn't under any time pressure to do so.

Airport meeting rooms cater to convenience

The major drawcard of an airport meeting room has always been convenience.

Within minutes of waving goodbye to the seatbelt sign, a traveller could say hello to colleagues or clients in their own private meeting space: swapping the traditional airport transfer with a quick stroll from aisle seat to boardroom seat.

Whether for a one-on-one discussion, a small group roundtable or a formal company board meeting, members could fly in, get down to business, and jet home with the job done.

But jumping on a plane to attend a single sit-down is no longer the ‘convenient’ and time-saving choice it once was.

For a large part, the surging popularity of video conferencing is to blame: not to mention corporate belt-tightening across the board.

Budgets buck brief business trips

Even with video conferencing in play, businesses will still have plenty of reasons to travel: but getting on a plane for a same-day, 'in and out' journey will be seen by many as an unnecessary expense.

It's a reality that reduces the appeal and need for airport meeting rooms, and a view echoed by Virgin Australia's CEO Jayne Hrdlicka.

"People will probably not pick up and move between two cities for one meeting, unless they’re selling something or it’s a new relationship," Hrdlicka said at the December 2020 CAPA Live summit.

"I think some trips come out of the market, particularly with very big businesses where there was a lot of intrastate and interstate travel ... between different offices, particularly Sydney-Melbourne."

The trends among business travellers support that assumption.

In Executive Traveller's most recent reader survey, a staggering 93.5% of responders indicated they'd been using video conferencing either "somewhat more" or "significantly more" in the workplace than before COVID-19.

Of those still using video conferencing, 84% indicated they are now travelling less than in 2019, with a further 6% no longer travelling at all.

This could see Virgin Australia's airport meeting rooms being marketed beyond their traditional purpose.

For instance, the privacy they provide would be highly valued by some – particularly if Virgin Australia's separate invitation-only lounges don't return.

Read: Virgin to retain VIP tier, but maybe not The Club lounges

Some larger families, particularly with young children, might also enjoy hiring the space as something of a kids room.

Qantas drops its own meeting rooms

The outcome of Virgin Australia's meeting room wager will be intriguing, particularly as Qantas recently shut its entire portfolio of 26 meeting rooms across eight airports.

“All Qantas meeting rooms have permanently closed,” a spokesperson for the airline confirms to Executive Traveller.

While all the airline's meeting rooms were temporarily closed back in March 2020 – coinciding with the shuttering of airport lounges across the country, due to COVID-19 – a more recent decision made that measure permanent.

Qantas meeting rooms typically offered presentation facilities, whiteboards, and other amenities on request.
Qantas meeting rooms typically offered presentation facilities, whiteboards, and other amenities on request.

But even before video conferencing became the norm, Qantas' meeting rooms had already begun losing their place.

Back in October 2019, Qantas permanently closed its entire meeting space at Melbourne Airport – being separate from the airline’s lounge precinct, situated along the departure concourse – for which it would have been paying considerable rent to Melbourne Airport.

After its closure, Qantas continued to offer meeting facilities at eight other airports until the COVID shutdown, including a flagship space in Sydney, spanning nine meeting rooms.

The largest of those could seat up to 22 attendees, costing companies $1,055 for a four-hour meeting, or $844 if one of the attendees held Chairman’s Lounge, Platinum One, Platinum or Gold status, or a Qantas Club membership.

Qantas also had meeting facilities in Adelaide (five rooms), Brisbane (six rooms), Canberra (two rooms), Darwin (one room), the Gold Coast (one room), Perth (one room), and Townsville (one room), each of varying sizes.

Qantas' Brisbane meeting rooms were wrapped around the Qantas Club's public working spaces.
Qantas' Brisbane meeting rooms were wrapped around the Qantas Club's public working spaces.

When asked whether the defunct rooms would be opened up for regular lounge guests to use as workspaces – or removed entirely in favour of extra general seating – a Qantas spokesperson advised that “we are yet to decide how this space will be best utilised for customers going forward.”

However, as those meeting rooms fell within the footprint of the airline’s Qantas Clubs or Business Lounges in all but Sydney and the Gold Coast, Qantas will have a few options up its sleeve.

Chairman's Lounge is a traveller's ticket to privacy

For now, the privilege of a private airport meeting room becomes a perk exclusive to Qantas' Chairman’s Lounge members and guests.

That’s because Qantas’ Chairman’s Lounges – found in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth – provide private meeting spaces within the confines of each VIP lounge, for the complimentary use of members.

Much like the Qantas First Lounges, Qantas' Chairman's Lounges also feature distinct meeting rooms.
Much like the Qantas First Lounges, Qantas' Chairman's Lounges also feature distinct meeting rooms.

Read: What it's really like inside the Qantas Chairman's Lounge

The same, of course, can be said of Virgin Australia's The Club lounges: but their fate remains uncertain, and these largely remain closed.

Melbourne is the exception, where The Club is currently catering to regular lounge guests as maintenance works continue in the airline's public lounge.

But what's normally The Club's private boardroom here has been repurposed as a general seating area, to maximise available space in this cosy location.

Whether business travellers miss the humble airport meeting room in 2021, or embrace the opportunity to exit the terminal and embark on fewer – yet longer – trips, will certainly be interesting to watch.

Also read: Virgin Australia opens fresh new Adelaide lounge

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

05 May 2016

Total posts 626

Meeting rooms can be handy for those travelling but wanting a relatively quiet space to chair a Zoom/Teams call. I've seen people in lounges on such calls.

I think it's a good move that Virgin is retaining some meeting rooms.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 415

Always wondered who will be paying the kind of prices QF is asking for their meeting rooms. 

Furthermore, for face to face meetings, unless there is a lot of people flying into the airport for one meeting, otherwise it’s simply exchanging one person’s (flying in) inconvenience for another, in which the local participants would have to go into the airport, pass through the security screen, then find their way into an unfamiliar room.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1294

There are usually plenty of hotels nearby airports that can cater as well but with no security, better food, and even booze at the end of the meeting (if not during).


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