TORONTO — Trying to be all things to all people, and please everyone with the same product – “the peanut butter approach”, says WestJet’s VP Marketing Communications Richard Bartrem – just doesn’t work, especially when it comes to airlines.
That’s part of the reason WestJet has sharpened its focus on the premium market, and at the other end of the scale, why it launched Swoop, “for customers who just want a seat and a seatbelt” and want to pay accordingly, says Bartrem.
Speaking at WestJet’s trade partners event last night at Toronto’s upscale Carlu venue, Bartrem said “from a travel agent perspective, Swoop is not something we’re selling through the travel agent community. But Swoop allows us to defend our position in the ultra low-cost carrier market. The launch of Swoop allowed us to introduce a suite of brands that would be relevant to different markets.”
Meanwhile WestJet is aiming to catch a much bigger share of the premium market. WestJet is gearing up to welcome its first three new 787 Dreamliner aircraft in early 2019 – and more in 2020 and 2021.
WestJet is also focusing its attention on the revamping of its 737 fleet to 737 MAX, a rollout that will continue over the next 18 to 24 months. “Our new premium cabin at the front of the plane is exciting news for travel agents,” says Bartrem in a November 2018 interview with Travelweek. “Now they can sell our premium product.”
WestJet’s research showed that premium travellers represent 26% of air travellers, but that 26% punches above its weight when it comes to flight volume (50%) and spend (56%).
“We’re talking about the road warriors, and the bucket list achievers,” Bartrem told agents last night. “Those segments will spend more. You’ll see a renewed focus on that premium traveller – who spends more, with you, and with us.”
With its goal of becoming a premium relevant airline, WestJet is now focusing on building out its hubs, especially Calgary: “That’s our hometown,” says Bartrem.
WestJet also wants to improve its schedule utility, support more global travel and shift unprofitable capacity.
The airline’s growth strategy kicked into high gear in the past few years with new service to Europe, including new addition Barcelona announced earlier this fall, with seasonal flights between Toronto and Barcelona starting in May 2019.
For summer 2019 WestJet will operate London (Gatwick) service from Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto, service from Halifax to Glasgow, London and Paris, and service between Halifax and Dublin.
The original St. John’s to Dublin route was a “tremendous success,” says Bartrem, but WestJet made the decision to move the gateway to Halifax to build up that hub.
WestJet is making a deliberate approach to international growth, he added. “Part of going bigger was about going smaller. We launched WestJet Encore to pull passengers into our hubs for long-haul travel.”
Part and parcel with that growth strategy, WestJet is also getting more “purposeful” with the partners it signs.
This past summer WestJet announced it was strengthening its ties with Delta Air Lines, with a joint venture proposal. The deal is still subject to government approval.
Bartrem joked that WestJet was getting a reputation for being promiscuous with all the airline partners it was signing on, and said the goal now is to build deeper relationships with a handful of airlines.
With its premium product WestJet’s Chris Van Rensburg, Director, Guest Experience, says the airline is aiming for a five-star experience. “We’re benchmarking ourselves not against other airlines, but the top hotels,” brands like Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
WestJet’s premium configuration is 2×2 and is available now on the B737 MAX aircraft, and is being retrofitted across the carrier’s fleet of 737s.
Digital evolutions are on tap for the company as well. “As our CEO Ed Sims says, one day we will become a digital company that just happens to fly planes,” says Alfredo Tan, WestJet’s Chief Digital and Innovation Officer.
It all adds up to a strong momentum for the carrier going forward. “This is our future and we need you to come along on the journey with us,” Jane Clementino, Director, Agency Sales told the audience.
Clementino and the team handed out custom-made Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses – in WestJet’s own shade of teal, of course – to everyone at the event.
“Get ready for a fierce competitor,” she said. “Think of us and book us often.”