GM of Jet Airways Canada defines ‘success’ as the ability to “make a significant difference to the company and to the lives of others"
The newest travel industry figure to be featured in TRAVELHotNews.com’s Profile section is Justin Gosling, the General Manager of Jet Airways Canada. The Indian-based airline made a big debut in Canada last year, and we caught up with Gosling to learn more about the man behind the airline.
As of June 2009, Justin Gosling is now the Country Manager, Canada for Etihad Airways.
Gosling’s background is British, but he didn’t spend his formative years there exclusively. He spent five years in India but went to school in Holland, where he picked up some impressive language skills.
“[In Holland], you can’t travel in any direction without coming into a new language zone…so I came away from school in Holland speaking French, Dutch and German, thank you very much, and it’s helped me in the travel industry. You can pretty well fall into a number of things,” he said.
When asked what he studied in college and university, he laughed, saying, “My parents would have some interesting answers for you on that one.” After high school in Holland, Gosling moved back to the UK and had an idea to do a B.A. in travel and tourism.
However, when he went to his interview, they had made an administrative error and the only place left for him was in a language course, and it was too late for him to apply elsewhere. He says he attended Ealing College in London for a year, “and I have to say it really wasn’t my thing.”
As he didn’t want to wait until the following year to apply for travel and tourism, he, like several travel industry folks profiled in TRAVELHotNews, went straight into the business.
“It was around the time that RCI was recruiting and I thought, ‘You know what, let’s just see if I can do this without a degree.’” Gosling says he did go back to school and got a diploma in management studies, and “I may well go back and do an MBA one day but with four kids it’s kind of tough,” he admitted.
Escaping the UK rain
Gosling began at Resort Condominiums International in the early 1980s in Britain. He was one of the first employees in the United Kingdom, and looked back fondly on his first travel job, where he carried out inspections at various resorts around Europe.
“It was a drizzly March in the UK and I was flown down to Athens and Mykonos to do a resort inspection. I was sitting with the owner of the resort, it was about 6 o’clock in the evening, and we watched the warm sun go down over the back of the veranda.”
“I think we were having Tequila Sunrises and the owner said to me, ‘Justin, I’m going to start marketing this place in a couple of months, would you like a job?’ I think the deciding process was about a nanosecond and a couple of months later I arrived in Mykonos.”
Gosling spent the remainder of the year in Athens, and made his way to Malta for one year, where he worked with a tour operator specializing in inbound tours, many from Germany.
Taking off with Lufthansa
It was in Malta where Gosling began his career in airlines. Gosling spent much time at the airports waiting for Lufthansa flights to come in, and while chatting with the staff, he found an interest in that line of work. He began his first airline job with Lufthansa in 1988, starting at the check-in desk at London Heathrow.
“I was with Lufthansa for a total of 19 years. And four of those years were as general manager for Canada, so that was my first overseas posting. I did everything from check-in to sales to account management to sales management to regional management and ended up in Canada, then went down to New York,” he said.
Soon after his career took off, so did his family. “A funny thing happened, [my] private life took a turn. We had two little boys and then my wife got pregnant with [fraternal twin girls],” and it was then that the Gosling family decided to settle down. The career track he had with Lufthansa was not ideal for his family situation, as he would have to move every few years.
Canada came to mind, as he and his wife had lived there before and enjoyed their time there. Gosling stayed with Lufthansa for a while and then left the company to work for HRG (Hogg Robinson Group, which specializes in corporate travel services) and headed up the supply relations team.
Gosling said he learned more about airlines than he did in 19 years at Lufthansa, because of all the airline contracts he received. “I had a bookshelf full of airline contracts…a lot of us do a lot of the same thing, but there are different ways of thinking about how to move markets and how to incentivize and how to maximize market share.”
While he enjoyed his time at HRG, he admits he was “very keen to get back into the airline industry again.” It was at that time that Jet Airways was recruiting for a general manager. Gosling began his position in November of 2007.
The airline has 20 staff in Canada, with nine at Jet Airways’ Mississauga office, one employee managing cargo and the rest flight crew. “The first year’s been tough; it’s been a learning experience. We’ve had our share of successes and failures,” but Gosling says the airline enjoys “a very solid base and a very healthy market share from the Indian communities here.”
What’s next? Gosling’s goal is to increase Jet Airways’ share of the business market and expanding the tourism market to India from the non-Indian market in Canada. Internationally, he says the airline will be hoping to do more with Brussels airport, where the airline has their European hub, and a partnership with Brussels Airlines.
Proudest career achievement: Helping during 9/11
When asked about his proudest career achievement, Gosling was humble. He pointed out that it would be easy to talk about his success in goal-oriented terms such as profits and sales, instead preferring to define ‘success’ in terms of his ability to “make a significant difference to the company and to the lives of others.”
In that case, Gosling said one of his most challenging and rewarding times was in the days surrounding 9/11. He had only been with Lufthansa for a few months, and he was sent to Halifax on a special flight to take security guards and supplies to Gander and St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“It was a very, very difficult time; an emotionally charged time; there was a lot of sadness, a lot of bitterness, a lot of frustration because people couldn’t get home, they couldn’t get to where they were supposed to be going.”
Eventually, he was able to track down several hundred stranded passengers and help them find their way back home, and says in his own small way, he managed to contribute positively to help assist in a crisis situation.
“To this day it’s been one of the most rewarding times I had in the industry. It was very very difficult. But the thanks and the appreciation that we got from people afterwards was well worth it,” he affirmed.
Leadership style: Making employees happyWhen it comes to leadership style, Gosling said, “I try very hard to create an environment where people can be the best that they can be,” which, according to him, depends on the dynamics within the team, the makeup of the team, and how people respond to the leader.
“I’d like to give everybody the opportunity of getting fulfillment and satisfaction from what they’re doing. And with the demands of a very busy organization and a lot of things going on and maybe not enough people to do it, sometimes that doesn’t come out loud and clear. But that’s what I’ve always tried to do.” At the same time, he doesn’t shy away from leading by example.
Gosling takes his employees’ satisfaction into account. “I take people’s happiness within the organization very seriously. After all, a company is just a bunch of books and it’s a building with walls and what it all comes down to is whether the people feel inspired and if they are happy in what they’re doing, and if they are, that will show through in the service they give to the customers.”
Worst job: “I can still smell the sour milk”
Of all the jobs he’s ever had, Gosling recalls his worst experience, a summer stint at a milk packaging factory in Amsterdam. It was “cold, smelly and very physical – the money was great, though.”
“The milk factory was a nasty one: I had to pack crates, operate some machinery, drive a forklift, all on the three degrees Celsius temperature-controlled factory floor. But the worst was cleaning up spills where the machines had malfunctioned, washing out the trucks. I can still smell the sour milk…”
If not in travel…
If he hadn’t ended up in the travel industry, Gosling says he would have been a physical education teacher. “That’s what I actually had in mind in Holland when I came to the end of my schooling, [that’s what I wanted to be].”
“And I always had this fantasy about this ‘other life’ that I would have one day when I would have a little dive shop somewhere and live on a beach and not worry about anything. I love scuba diving and have always tried to keep up with that.”
Gosling has taken his passion for diving to Malta and has visited underwater wrecks in the Dominican Republic, done coral dives in Bali and some reef dives. “I don’t have any desires to dive with the sharks or go to caves in the middle of the night. It’s more recreational, I don’t want to take it too ‘nutty’.”
Two places he has never been and has always wanted to visit are, unsurprisingly, areas that offer great diving, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and Red Sea diving in Israel.
Worst travel experience: Six and a half hours of seasick people
When it comes to worst travel experiences, Gosling has two to share. When he lived in Greece, he had to take a ferry from the Island of Kos back to Mykonos. There was a hurricane and three of the five available ferries were inoperable “so they crammed us onto the two.”
“For six and a half hours, I was surrounded by a sea of people who were horrendously seasick,” he laughed. “I actually remember getting off the boat and kissing the ground for the first time in my life.
“And that will go down as my all-time worst travel experience. Never again. The wind comes up like crazy in the Adriatic, all of a sudden it comes to being a balmy calm morning, but the air can really whip the sea up. It was horrible. You know what, I didn’t [get sick] but I was covered in it when I got out, all from other people. It was just the absolute pits.”
Reading when there’s time
As far as intellectual interests go, Gosling says, “whenever possible, I love to read,” but he confesses, “my wife’s the cerebral one. She’s part of the book club, reading [high literary prose] like Ondaatje [or the latest books]; she’ll be reading and discussing, and I’l be sitting there with a Clive Cussler novel with some sort of James Bond character. Every once in a while I’ll try to read something grown-up, but I don’t have the time.”
Hobbies and Sports
When it comes to physical pursuits, Gosling is relatively active. He’s a certified scuba diver, snowboards and enjoys team sports and the outdoors. An avid rugby player in his teens, Gosling was also recruited for the national team.
“Holland is not a great rugby-playing nation…I was put forward for the national team when I was 18 and probably would have gotten in until they found out I was English,” he laughed. He pondered changing his nationality to get into the team but then learned he would have to put in 18 months of national service, so he declined.
At the time of the interview, Gosling also was part of the Jet Airways cricket team in the Indo-Canadian Chamber of Commerce ‘league’, but he says he is more of a reluctant cricket player.
It’s not just Gosling who is active; his wife captained her field hockey team at school “and plays a great game of tennis,” and his eldest son is skilled in soccer. Gosling says his eldest is also beginning to eye hockey as a potential sport, like any good Canadian.
“I’m not quite sure what to do with that. Do you say, ’That’s my boy, I’ll give him all the support he needs, I’ll get up at five in the morning,’ or do you say, ‘Son, I think you should stick with the soccer thing, you’re really good at that’?
“I don’t know, we’ll see. I won’t hold him back but I hear a lot of horror stories about hockey parents, so, I don’t know how that’s going to pan out.”
The Jet family
When it comes to travelling with the family, Gosling says when he had a family of four, he, his wife and their two sons managed to travel together a fair bit. His parents are in the UK and his wife’s parents reside in Dublin, and it’s his family’s goal to visit each year.
“Since the twins came along and we’re outnumbered, we refrained from going anywhere for a couple of years,” he said. At the time of the interview, Gosling and his family had just completed a trip to the UK, but he was called back to a meeting in Mumbai, India. “I had to leave my wife and four kids with my parents in Bristol, and she’s delighted,” he joked.
Following the TRAVELHotNews.com interview, Gosling flew back to Dublin to rejoin his family to spend a week cottaging in Ireland, “somewhere far away from cellphones and laptops and everything else.”
Light on his feet
There’s a little something that people may not know about Gosling, which he shares with TRAVELHotNews: his knowledge and enjoyment of ballroom dancing. “Even though I haven’t done it for a long time, I used to love ballroom dancing. I never competed, but did have to pass some proficiency tests at the end of each syllabus,” he said.
Back to business
Going back to business, Gosling said that beyond Toronto, another Canadian expansion market possibility is Vancouver, but “there are currently no immediate expansion plans for the Canadian market.
“This is a very, very challenging market. We’ve established a very strong business base, and this is an interesting time to be doing it because everyone is tightening their belt, everyone is talking about the negative effects of the fuel prices, there are a lot of carriers competing very much for the same business.”
Gosling commented on the importance of travel agents. “I am a very strong proponent of working very closely together with the travel agency. Clearly there has to be an outlet for the producer to bring their product to market.”
He added that some airlines have fallen “afoul in the past” is by trying to gain a competitive market advantage by doing discounting so that the consumer can “get a deal that they wouldn’t be able to get through the wholesaler, through the middleman.”
Agents are important
“In an environment where at least 80 per cent of your revenue is being generated by the travel agent community, you may make short term gain but potentially may have a long term loss.” All it takes is a handful of top agents or consolidators to raise a fuss or, worse yet, stop doing business with an airline to cause a problem, so naturally, agents are important to Jet Airways.
Gosling also acknowledges that “direct sales are a valid and important channel and I don’t think any other travel professional or agency would say otherwise. How you work with it and how you differentiate that in the market will determine your other successes from the sector. Personally, I put a lot of emphasis and support into the travel agent community.”
TRAVELHotNews.com would like to thank Justin Gosling for his time and cooperation for this interview. As of June 2009, Justin Gosling is now the Country Manager, Canada for Etihad Airways.
He said that the volume of bookings by far is from the travel agent community versus direct. With international flights, date changes and different connections, the customer usually chooses to book with an agent, and both direct and travel agent bookings are “both valid distribution models,” according to Gosling. “But to say I would drive one of them forward radically at the expense of the other would not be something that I would support.”