Paul Simmons, Easyjet's general manager for the UK, talks to BBT editor Martin Ferguson about the airline's move on to the GDSs and its growing credibility in the corporate travel arena
BBT: How successful have the agreements with the global distribution systems (GDSs) been?
PS: I brokered the original deals with Amadeus and Galileo. It started quite slowly and it was definitely a steep learning curve for both Easyjet and the trade. In the beginning there was a lot of scepticism as to whether or not we were in it for the long term. But we've spent the last few years with the Guild of Travel Management Companies [GTMC] and Institute of Travel & Meetings [ITM] members explaining what we're about, and in the last 10 months we have seen strong growth from the GDS and application programming interface [API] channels. About 20 per cent of our overall business comes from the business travel sector, with about half of those bookings made on the GDS and half made direct on Easyjet.com.
BBT: What impact will the recent deal with Sabre have on your business and what will it mean for the trade's perception of Easyjet?
PS: It was important for us to complete a deal with Sabre and have our inventory on all three of the GDSs in the UK market. We needed to be on all three platforms, I think, to be recognised as a serious player in the business travel sector. It was also important for us to do the Sabre deal as it serves American Express Business Travel. That was one of the last pieces of the jigsaw for us in terms of our distribution infrastructure in the UK.
BBT: Can travel buyers and travellers expect to see the introduction of an Easyjet loyalty scheme for its frequent flyers?
PS: We almost certainly won't be introducing a loyalty scheme because of the cost involved. We are a low-cost airline and are working with low margins, so if we started adding frequent flyer schemes and such like we'd start to look like any other legacy carrier - in fact, we'd be in the 'neither/nor' category. We will be pushing the Easyjet Plus card to business travellers - a sort of speedy boarding season ticket. We are also looking at new areas of functionality for business travel that may include benefits, such as parking and passing through security faster.
BBT: What do you still have to do to convince the trade that Easyjet is a genuine alternative to the full service carriers?
PS: The building blocks are in place. Strong reliable schedules to major airports, flexibility for the traveller, GDS and API connectivity, a business dedicated/friendly section in our contact centre - and, of course, better prices than the dinosaurs. Oh, and we fly more passengers every year than BA and Virgin combined. The more enlightened members of the trade have already figured out that the best way to save a client money on short-haul air travel is to switch to Easyjet.
BBT: How well is Easyjet positioned for coming out of the downturn?
PS: We have a great and growing network with a focus on value and quality. We think that's a good place to be in a downturn, and now operate over 500 routes across 29 counties.
BBT: Did Easyjet benefit from the British Airways' cabin crew strikes?
PS: To a small extent. But to be frank we were already beating them. Interestingly, we did see a high volume of BA Gold cardholders take up our free Speedy Boarding offer on strike days.
BBT: Do you predict more consolidation in the airline sector?
PS: There was overcapacity in the airline sector for too long. It became blatantly obvious when the economy faltered at the same time as oil prices hit record highs. The number of people flying fell and there were too many empty seats in the air. Most airlines have adjusted capacity to match demand, but further consolidation is probable over time, both in the low cost and high cost sectors of the industry.
BBT: Would Easyjet ever consider joining an airline alliance?
PS: No. A traditional alliance structure is not compatible with the business model.
BBT: As part of an anti-trust immunity agreement with American Airlines, British Airways will have to relinquish slots at Heathrow. Would Easyjet be tempted to move in?
PS: We always keep our options open, but I wouldn't recommend holding your breath.
BBT: What will Easyjet's new chief executive bring to the business?
PS: This is an exciting time for us. Carolyn [McCall] has a proven track record of successful operational delivery in a fast changing online consumer-facing business combined with extensive plc-board, government and lobbying experience.
BBT: Do you expect more full service carriers to pursue the unbundling model?
PS: As they lurch from one stolen idea to another they are quite likely to have a look at unbundling. But until they address their unsustainable cost bases and outmoded working practices, playing around with unbundling is likely to be a distraction rather than a financial salvation.
- Paul Simmons is Easyjet's general manager for the UK, responsible for the commercial programme and revenue delivery airline for the airline across 10 bases. He joined in June 2006 as head of brand marketing, product and distribution. He led the initiative that saw the airline join the GDSs for the first time. Prior to Easyjet, Paul was EVP sales and marketing for Oberoi Hotels after InterContinental Hotels, where he was VP global brand marketing. Paul is married with two young sons, two dogs and two cats. He lives in Great Brickhill in North Buckinghamshire and is a West Ham United fan.