MLSE President and CEO Michael Friisdahl
The new MLSE President and CEO Michael Friisdahl.

No vertical integration? That makes it tough for new tour ops, says Friisdahl

TORONTO — He’s trading the hangar for the Hangar but incoming MLSE President and CEO Michael Friisdahl says he will continue to work with the team at Air Canada Leisure Group as the search for its new president and CEO continues. Travelweek caught up with Friisdahl as he looked back on almost 30 years in the industry.


Travelweek: What are the plans for finding your successor at Air Canada Leisure Group?

Friisdahl: “I’ll be assisting Air Canada Leisure Group with the transition through December. In terms of a successor, it’s clearly their decision. But I have to say the Group is operating extremely well with strong leadership at both Air Canada Vacations and Air Canada rouge.”

Travelweek: What will you miss the most about the travel industry?

Friisdahl: “It’s been a great ride for me, almost 30 years. I started as an entrepreneur with The Holiday Network. Then Holiday House was a great opportunity for me personally. It sold to North American Leisure Group (NALG) which became MyTravel and then Thomas Cook Group. I moved to the corporate side as President of Thomas Cook North America where I was fortunate to have exposure in both the U.S. and Europe. The real highlight for me though was the launch of rouge and the formation of the Air Canada Leisure Group. The last three years have been arguably the best years in Air Canada’s history and to play a small part in that has been absolutely fantastic.”

Travelweek: What won’t you miss?

Friisdahl: “Not much actually. There’s always something new around the corner with the travel industry.”

Travelweek: What are Canadian tour operators doing right, in your opinion, and what are their challenges?

Friisdahl: “The industry is continuously evolving. Look at the focus the Air Canada has put into its international hub strategy, and all the leisure destinations for rouge. Those are the types of decisions that show adaptation to the new environment.

“In Canada we’re seeing a stronger evolution to true vertical integration. In the past, a tour operator might have an airline, or it might not. Now tour operators have full airlines as well as hotel companies. That’s occurred in the past few years. It makes entry for any newcomers very difficult, if you don’t have vertical integration, and it doesn’t matter what segment you’re in.

“There’s also the evolution of online travel agencies and the growth of B2Cs. There was all that speculation that travel agents would be disintermediated. The myths have proven not true. It shows there’s still a place for travel agents. They have to make sure they remain very relevant, and the good ones will continue to rise to the top.”

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