AWOL website

95 reasons why Qantas went AWOL

In Examples by Peter Gearin

Australia’s national carrier teamed with Junkee Media to produce its youth-oriented travel site. This is Brand Tales’ review of its website.

Qantas celebrates its centenary in November 2020. It’s a fine achievement, especially after the global financial crisis sent the grand old company’s share price stumbling and profits tumbling.

Now thriving, having seemingly put its financial near-death experience behind it, Australia’s national airline with the world’s most enviable safety record wanted to take on new challenges. One of these was for the 95-year-old business to be more relevant to a younger audience: future Qantas passengers.

A result of this was unveiled in early 2015, when Qantas and youth publisher Junkee Media came together to create AWOL. Since then, the site has become a dynamic addition to the travel web space, which has traditionally been the realm of publishers such as Fairfax Media (with the sensible and mature Traveller) and commercial entities such as the deals-heavy site Flight Centre.

Befitting its target audience of young Australians with a lust for travel, AWOL is a “mobile-first travel title”. Its Facebook bio says that AWOL plans to “showcase all the places you really need to know about and give you the knowledge and inspiration to step off the well-worn track and see what you can find”. It is backed by an enthusiastic and cheeky presence on every social media platform.

AWOL’s web and mobile landing pages have been cleverly conceived. The first impression is that a lot of time has been spent getting the look and feel right, with the careful use of bright lead images and pastel effects boxes. Sharp-eyed readers would realise the clashing red and fushsia pink straps were selected with Qantas in mind; the colours ape the colour scheme of its flight attendants’ uniform.

Befitting its target audience of young Australians with a lust for travel, AWOL is a ‘mobile-first travel title’.

The site is updated with five to eight perky posts every weekday, so regular readers won’t get bored. Most stories are in the best Buzzfeed tradition, such as “The 7 Best Things to do in Brisbane This September” (only seven?) or “5 of the Best Delis in New York City”. Although many of the articles aren’t original – AWOL’s version of stories already published in traditional media such as the Daily Telegraph or Wired – they are sharply written, admirably offbeat and perfect fodder for social media. A recent four-par entry on a Nutella pop-up being launched in Melbourne, for instance, was stolen from TimeOut.

AWOL covers a wide range of topics, from location-centric information to food, culture (Wes Anderson’s take on café design, for example) and photography. Stories don’t have the breathlessness “wow, awesome!” tone found in many travel posts that are aimed at younger audiences, and regular features include a quote of the day and “Instagrammer of the Week”.

About once a month, AWOL publishes longer-form pieces that delve into featured destinations in greater detail. In August, it posted a piece on “Why Japan’s Mt Fuji is the perfect escape from the city”, in which writer Jacob Lynagh included some useful practical details for those looking for a break from “jarring” Tokyo. The story includes well-displayed images taken by the writer to illustrate the story and crossheadings to break up the type. Only a line at the end of the story can be described as a call to action, a link that reads: “Qantas flies to Japan twice daily. Check out flights here.”

But that doesn’t mean AWOL’s relationship with Qantas is mute. The commercial tie-in was clear recently when a story promoting the Qantas Online Mall, “Shop Your Way To A Dream Holiday With Qantas Frequent Flyer”, appeared in the regular editorial feed.

One area that will clearly develop in AWOL’s future is a comprehensive city guide. There’s a prominent link on the landing page that asks readers to “choose your destination”, and only Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Tokyo have been covered so far in its “real” city guide series. Using the same template as the long-form feature stories, they are great to look at and full of practical information. They tend to dwell on the positives but have the odd dig – noting, for example, Sydney’s “dull” CBD and “terrible” traffic.

AWOL is a likeable site that looks good and delivers tasty, relevant information in mainly bite-size pieces for its youthful audience. If it can keep up the quality, AWOL will be just what Qantas would have wanted for a birthday present.

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About the author
Peter Gearin

Peter Gearin


A former senior editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald, Peter is managing editor of Brand Tales and director of Sydney-based content services business Top to Tale Media. He specialises in helping in-house content teams achieve better results.