In late September, on an otherwise ordinary Spring day in the nation’s capital, Singapore Airlines flight SQ291 landed at Canberra International Airport. After a short refueling stop, the Boeing 777-200 took to the air again, setting out across the Tasman to that other Australasian capital, Wellington.
The flights marked a momentous occasion for Canberra – the first time since 2004 the city’s airport had hosted an international service. The opening of the routes provides a case study of how a private business explores and implements growth opportunities.
To celebrate the occasion the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ ACT division held an event with the airport to discuss its journey to opening the routes and how the Territory’s businesses could take advantage of the airport’s new status as an international gateway.
Preparing for takeoff
Securing Singapore Airlines to fly into Canberra required over three years of direct engagement, the airport’s Managing Director, Stephen Byron, said. Initially the idea of flying into Canberra was met with a series of difficult questions like how many international carriers does the airport have now and why doesn’t Qantas fly out of there.
The capability to build the airport’s international terminal was part of a longer-term plan that has been implemented since the airport was privatised in 1998, Byron said. The first steps involved building business parks and a hotel in the vicinity of the airport that then allowed the funding of the terminal.
The opening of the Singapore routes now opens opportunities for Canberra-based businesses to look to Singapore, a major centre of the wider Asian economy, as part of their growth strategy.
“For those companies that are prepared to... throw off the shackles of apathy and are looking to expand their business, in my view Singapore does offer considerable opportunities for funding, for joint venturing, and for export markets,” Doug Chester MAICD, Australia’s former High Commissioner to Singapore, told the audience of ACT directors.
Based on his extensive experience of the Lion City, Chester had two main pieces of advice for doing business there.
It is important, according to Chester, to understand how Singapore works, to get to know its market and spend time there. The large Australian ex-pat community is a valuable source of information. The Australian Chamber of Commerce holds regular events which are perfect networking opportunities.
Government agencies can also provide assistance. AusTrade has very good people in Singapore, Chambers said. The Singapore bodies like the Economic Development Board and the Infocomm Development Authority are also very open and encouraging of businesses coming from overseas.
The number one key to doing business in Singapore is building relationships, according to Chester. ”They are welcoming, Singaporeans. They’re frank, they’re very much like Australians,” Chester said. Relationships were central to Canberra Airport adding the Singapore leg as soon as it did, he explained. The airport identified a number of important Singaporean decision-makers to meet and engage with to move the process along. It demonstrates that regular face-to-face interaction is vital to doing sustainable business in Singapore, Chester explained.
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