Iceland Express prepares to kick off summer with switch of London airports
As it approaches its switch of London base from Stansted to Gatwick on 1 May, Iceland Express is noticing different booking trends among its clientele. “The financial situation has led people to book closer to the day when they want to travel,” reports director revenue and route development, Valgeir Bjarnason, though he is quick to add that the overall numbers have not been badly affected.
“The British market to Iceland has actually increased, but Icelandic bookings dropped immediately last October, though they are slowly coming back,” Bjarnason notes.
That British market is set to increase further. The airline’s marketing director, Sigurður Valur Sigurðsson, estimates that the move to Gatwick will bring a 10%-15% increase in passengers this summer compared with summer 2008. One reason for this is the greater interest of Gatwick services among tour operators in comparison to flights from Stansted, where individual bookings are far more prevalent. Sigurðsson adds that Iceland Express’s sales agents are encouraged by the airport switch too.
The financial crisis that hit Iceland in the latter part of 2008 has affected the currency exchange rates and made the country, once an expensive destination, much cheaper. For travellers from the UK, for example, savings of around 30% are possible over pre-crisis costs. This has made weekend breaks a much more attractive proposition. Bjarnason notes that this could even result in Stansted services being reintroduced, though there are no definite plans yet.
As befits his role, Bjarnason is on the lookout for other destinations for the airline. “They can be the capitals of countries or regional destinations where we can find partners who are confident in selling Iceland,” he comments.
Among the options being considered is a northern UK destination. “There are possibilities and we’ll watch carefully what Icelandair does at Glasgow and Manchester,” Bjarnason confirms.
Both Bjarnason and Sigurðsson are confident about the summer 2009 programme, which sees 12 more destinations than the winter schedule. Moreover, having tailored capacity for maximum yield through the winter, resulting in better load factors than the previous winter, Bjarnason believes that that discipline will bring an even higher average load factor this summer than last (when the airline achieved 83%).
Sigurðsson is keen that the new campaign highlights the brand value of ‘low-fares with quality service’. “We are not as basic in our offering as Ryanair,” he notes, “but we do want to keep things simple.”
Where the airline does go that bit further is with its bluebox lite handheld inflight entertainment units – not unusual among low-fare airlines – but also with a 50% fare for children under 12, which is unusual. The bluebox units were introduced in summer 2008, with between 10 to 15 boxes per flight. “They’re almost always sold out, so we’re evaluating what the extra requirement should be,” says Sigurðsson.
Iceland Express’s technical team has been evaluating inflight mobile phone use, but adoption could be some time away. “The team believe it is rather expensive at present,” states Bjarnason, “and, of course, we don’t own our aircraft so we’re limited in that area.”
Anyway, both executives like to emphasise the calm atmosphere to be found on Iceland Express flights. “The whole experience is different from other low-fare carriers,” Sigurðsson declares. “We have specially created menus, sensibly priced, from an Icelandic caterer who is small and flexible, just as we are. So we offer more than the full-service carriers do when they present their inflight service. Because although passengers pay for their food on board, they have a greater choice. Basically, we are selling something people want to buy.”
Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/LARAnews.net