30-second interview with Colin Stewart, AirEuropa’s GM UK
Spain’s third-largest carrier after Iberia and Vueling, AirEuropa, has positioned itself as an increasingly important player in the market between Europe and Latin America. Benefiting from the position of its Madrid hub and links to the travel trade via its parent company, Globalia, several years ago the airline decided to focus on providing services between the two continents, and in July 2013, it will offer 80% more seats in this market than it did five years ago. Last week, Uruguayan Montevideo was launched as the airline’s sixth South American destination, giving anna.aero’s Magdalena Fas a chance to catch up with AirEuropa’s GM UK, Colin Stewart, during a special event organized in London by the airline’s UK commercial team, together with Uruguayan Embassy in London.
anna.aero: What are the main challenges of marketing a niche airline like AirEuropa in the UK?
Colin Stewart (CS): AirEuropa has been around for over 25 years, but was almost unheard of here in the UK consumer market. I launched the airline into the UK back in March 2009 and have spent the past 4.5 years raising awareness. I have built a wonderful, small, but professional commercial and marketing team that have also bought into my vision for the airline — so that certainly helps. The trade has been a real focus for us; we have established some enduring relationships and leveraged the good name and reputation of our partners to help us get off the ground. Our key message is that we are the ‘Latin American Specialist’ and offer some of the best service standards in the industry, but at very competitive prices.
anna.aero: What sort of traffic prevails out of your only UK gateway, London Gatwick?
CS: As of the end of 2012 we had 29% of our passengers originating in the UK connecting beyond Madrid, up from about 21% the year before. My job is to ensure this trend continues. AirEuropa offers a two class service, business and economy, clearly the majority of our traffic is economy, but we are seeing a steady increase in our business traffic.
anna.aero: Looking at the bigger picture, what is the proportion of Spanish vs. non-Spanish European sales on your South American routes?
CS: Over half of our sales are currently non-Spanish, this can be explained in some way by the challenging economic situation in our home market, which led to a decrease in the demand. On the other hand, AirEuropa has actively deployed its assets to international markets. We have transferred aircraft from Spanish point-to-point routes to our hub in Madrid, supporting the routes that are helping to feed our long-haul destinations into Latin America and the Caribbean.
anna.aero: How strong are your points of sale in South America?
CS: South America sales are growing stronger and stronger, but still do not reach the level of our European sales. Therefore, we have more outbound traffic from Europe than inbound from Latin America. To balance this situation out, we are creating a wider network, with more origins in Latin America (its next destination is São Paulo Guarulhos, coming on-line in December 2013) and more destinations in Spain and Europe (i.e. Brussels, La Coruña, Malaga). We have also enhanced our cooperation with other carriers in the region, so that we grow our “virtual” network. For instance, we have signed new agreements with Bolivian Amaszonas, and we are growing the scope of our cooperation with current partners, both in online markets like Argentina (Aerolineas Argentinas) and in offline markets like Chile (Sky Airline). On top of that, we are currently creating new partnerships in other key markets, so that we can offer our customers a wider network of Latin American destinations. On the other side of the network, we are also working with other carriers in order to grow our connectivity towards the Northern and Eastern Europe via interline agreements.
anna.aero: What other destinations in the UK and Europe are you looking at to help you grow your feed on South American routes?
CS: My main focus is to continue to consolidate the two flights a day we have operating out of Gatwick to Madrid. We recently moved from our ERJ195 up to the larger capacity B737, demonstrating our continued growth in this marketplace. Our Madrid hub is fed by a number of European markets including France, Italy, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and of course Spain. It is a very effective business model and one that is continuing to help AirEuropa punch well above its weight.
anna.aero: Once it joins AirEuropa’s fleet, how will the 787 help you grow the business?
CS: The introduction of the Dreamliner will support our Latin American strategy perfectly; however, we are not expecting our first 787’s until 2016. By then, we will no doubt be looking to strengthen our existing network while taking advantage of new and unserved markets. Our fleet is already one of the world’s most modern, and we have recently been acknowledged as Europe’s most punctual airline and the world’s 6th most punctual, so we are not doing too bad with the fleet we currently have at our disposal.
anna.aero: What can we expect coming from AirEuropa next?
CS: My aspiration is to propel AirEuropa into the minds and thoughts of those Latin Americans living and working in the UK, who will be travelling back home to visit friends and family, as well as the non-Latin community that have a love and interest in the region and want to discover all that it has to offer. There is also a big focus on the corporate market, we are working very hard to develop key partnerships with the large and SME’s who are currently carrying out business between the UK and Latin America – this is starting to bear fruit.