Tapping into the power of Alumni networks with Flight Centre
As one of the world’s largest travel companies – and with a global team of thousands of retail and corporate travel managers – people are the foundation of Flight Centre’s success. Proudly Australian-owned, Flight Centre Travel Group opened its first store in Sydney in 1982, offering bus trips before moving into flights and cruises. Today, Flight Centre is a global travel consultancy that boasts a market cap of $3.6B and offices in 23 countries.
But when COVID-19 forced border closures and grounded flights overnight, Flight Centre was among the first and hardest hit.
“I’ve been in the industry and with Flight Center for 33 years, and I have never been confronted with such a sharp, extraordinary event as when COVID hit our business,” says Allisa O’Connell, Head of People and Culture at Flight Centre.
“The most significant challenge was government-mandated industry implosion thanks to border closures. We no longer had a viable business model, and we had to move very quickly.”
Market conditions were the toughest Flight Centre had seen. With international and local border closures, people were cancelling their travel and not making any new plans for the immediate future. Corporate as well as personal travel was cut to nearly zero.
In the face of hostile industry conditions, Flight Centre had to make some tough decisions. Downsizing the organisationorganization during the first wave of lockdowns was the only way to keep the business moving forward.
The challenge for Allisa and her team was making these difficult stand-downs while maintaining the strong Flight Centre culture and showing compassion to furloughed ‘Flighties’. They also wanted to keep their talented people on-hand for future roles and vacancies.
“Once borders open, we would need people back on the ground quickly,” Allisa explains.
As Australian borders slowly began to re-open, Allisa and her team needed to re-hire the talent they had lost, and at speed. Their focus turned to redeploying and engaging alumni Flighties by tapping into a network of past Travel Consultants. They would use technology to connect with and nurture this network at-scale.
“We asked ourselves: what does recruitment look like for us now that we’re not hiring in the traditional sense?” Allisa says. “We were focused on redeploying and engaging past employees, and so we identified that we needed a solution to help us do this at-scale.”
While Flight Centre has been exposed to recruitment marketing in the traditional sense – for top of the funnel candidate attraction and nurture – they had never used it to engage alumni networks.
“The penny dropped – we realisedrealized we could utiliseutilize the same functionality to target our alumni audience. We could still target other cohorts at the same time – but we particularly targeted forming connections with our alumni.”
“The penny dropped – we realisedrealized we could utiliseutilize the same functionality to target our alumni audience.”
Recruitment marketing technology would help Flight Centre to capture alumni interest with targeted landing pages, engage them with relevant content, send automated email nurture campaigns and newsletters, and keep alumni in the loop with job openings and personalisedpersonalized job offers.
“We would use technology to connect with and nurture this network at-scale,” Allisa says.
Flight Centre used PageUp Recruitment Marketing to launch its alumni-focused “Forever Flighties” program. With Recruitment Marketing, alumni have a dedicated career site and landing pages they can refer back to, and Flighties can share stories and photos about their time working with Flight Centre.
Allisa is thrilled with the results so far. “We can deliver an exceptional employee experience by sharing gated content about the organisationorganization, including news, learning content, jobs, social media, past alumni, blogs,” she says.
“This keeps alumni networks informed about the business and engaged with job openings.”
The program was launched in February 2021, and was immediately effective in tapping into a network of past Travel Consultants. After just 3 weeks, 46 Flighties were re-hired, and 21% of people that came to the Alumni site returned. In the three months since the program launched, 86 Flighties have been re-hired.
Compared to new hires, alumni are ready to hit the ground running almost immediately, without needing to go through orientation and training.
“Someone who was a new hire would take about 6 months to go through orientation and training. It would cost up to $45,000 for a new employee to go through 6 months of training to finally become profitable,” Allisa says.
For alumni, this time to competency and sales productivity is 30 days – not 6 months – and costs just $7,000 – $10,000. That’s a cost saving of $35,000 per Alumni Hire, which equates to a total recruitment cost saving of more than $700,000 in the first few months.
Making the initial decision to retrench members of the Flight Centre family was never easy, but with PageUp Recruitment Marketing, Allisa and her team have re-engaged this cohort while upholding the Flight Centre culture and employer brand.
“When we were ready to re-engage, we sent out an email to this cohort and were overwhelmed by the positive response. Over 99% of our previous employees wanted to re-engage with us,” Allisa says.
“This speaks to the power of the community that we have created and nurtured through the ‘Forever Flighties’ campaign.”
Looking to the future, Flight Centre is set to roll out its alumni program globally, and Allisa is excited to leverage the internal mobility opportunities Recruitment Marketing technology can offer.
“We’ve been able to match people to new roles as a transition back into the company – you don’t have to put people back into the same role,” Allisa says.
“It has been an extremely exciting opportunity to be involved with PageUp and to have this alumni network. The engagement level is high from our people, and this is the easiest way to keep our talent pool warm, excited and part of our business.”