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Best of Airways — Airways Interview: SWISS

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Best of Airways — Airways Interview: SWISS

Best of Airways — Airways Interview: SWISS
August 14
12:00 2017

By Ramsey Qubein • Airways Magazine, July 2014

Airways‘ Ramsey Qubein sat down in Geneva with Lorenzo Stoll, the Head of Western Switzerland and a member of the extended management board for Swiss International Airlines, to discuss the airline’s growth plans for Geneva and the major restructuring of the overall operation at its second largest hub.

Lorenzo Stoll, former Chief Commercial Officer at Nestleé Waters Switzerland, was appointed Head of Western Switzerland at Swiss in 2013. PHOTO: SWISS.

Swiss has announced a major expansion from Geneva with the latest timetable in addition to a new low-fare product. What does this involve?

Swiss is reinvesting in the local market. We recognize that we have an immensely proud regional clientele that wants to travel with their national airline internationally but also wants value.

Low-fare carriers have set up shop in our market, but we are proud to offer similarly low fares with our latest launch. What sets us apart is the added value that comes with our low fares: frequent flyer miles on the Star Alliance network, free checked and carry-on baggage, assigned seats, and our in-flight service including signature Swiss chocolate.

Our new products are known as Geneva Economy Flex and Geneva Economy Light; they are designed with the traveler in mind. People want different things. For example, the business traveler that wants value-based flexibility can choose Economy Flex while the leisure traveler that wants quality service without paying a fortune can opt for Economy Light.

Of course, our Business Class cabin is always an option too for those that want premium service.

Swiss has made the decision to de-bank GVA. What benefits will that bring to the operation?

We were trying hard to connect passengers from one flight to another, but that often overlooked the demand from the local market. But, with our new network, we are placing an emphasis on the local passenger.

We are really focusing on destinations that GVA-originating passengers want to travel to, and if it happens that we can connect passengers across that pair of destinations, then great.

That does not mean we are forgetting about the bread and butter passengers. We still provide a solid network of connecting flights between cities with minimum connection times. But, it is not our intention to bank flights so that all flights can connect to one another anymore. Our new focus is both inbound and outbound traffic, not just connecting traffic.

But, we still offer a great product for connecting travelers since GVA is easy to navigate and we are in the heart of Europe allowing passengers from, say, Madrid to St Petersburg or Copenhagen, to connect with ease.

Geneva Airport is connected to more than 120 direct-flight destinations in Europe, North America, Africa, Middle East and Asia. PHOTO: GVA.

Along with this change, Geneva is establishing a large crew base of pilots and crewmembers. What does this entail?

Previously, our GVA network was staffed by Zurich-based crewmembers. We were a deadheading crew from Zurich to operate from GVA. As you know, Switzerland is quite diverse, and we feel that staffing local crewmembers from Geneva will provide a notable regional perspective to our flights.

Since we have started, the response has been incredibly strong. Geneva-originating passengers love being greeted and cared for by local crew in their own language and service style. At present, the pilot base is 87, but it will grow to 300. The same proportional growth numbers are planned for cabin crew.

What destinations are on the revised network?

Included in the expanded business-focused network are Rome, Lisbon, and Copenhagen. This summer, we aim to offer service to no fewer than 30 destinations. Other options for travelers include Belgrade and Pristina (extremely popular with local VFR “Visit Friends & Relatives” traffic), Marrakech, Stockholm, Oslo, Gothenburg, and London Gatwick. Some of the new summer cities being tested out this season include Ajaccio, Catania, and Olbia.

So far, how have the changes performed?

We do not have specific numbers for each hub to release, but in the past six months we have seen load factors improve by seven percent overall. Geneva-St. Petersburg served twice per week, has proven to be quite the popular and profitable destination. We are seeking to replicate similar success stories across our GVA network.

Swiss has a total of 86 aircraft in its fleet. The Airbus A320-214 (HB-IJD • MSN 553) was delivered to Swissair in 1995. PHOTO: MARCO ZANAZZO.

Some of the summer-only destinations have become year-round. Why is that, and can that trend continue with other cities?

Absolutely. Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, and Porto all began as summer-only destinations, but have proven their worth as year-round cities from Geneva. They are attractive to both our business and leisure clientele, meaning they work throughout the year.

This is part of the process of launching new destinations, testing to see if they are only seasonal or if they can withstand year-round service (both connecting and locally-grown).

With the continental success, are plans in place to grow the intercontinental network from GVA?

At present, JFK is still our sole long-haul destination, but it is a profitable and strong destination for us. As we grow our regional network, opportunities for long-haul connectivity grow.

And with the expansion plans for GVA’s international pier finally under full swing (completion is expected in 2017), this could come to fruition if traffic numbers remain strong. We aim to be known as the big airport within our category of mid-sized terminals across the continent.

You are intensely focused on the local market, but this does not mean you are leaving behind connecting passengers. Why should someone select to transfer at GVA versus Zurich or another European hub?

Geneva’s airport is compact and easy to navigate, and we are constantly getting accolades from passengers about the ease of use. We also are proud of the shops and restaurants that are available in the terminal.

You can buy everything from an affordable Swatch watch to the most expensive Iranian caviar within just a few feet of each other in the terminal. Plus, having a train station directly at the airport has helped travelers to reach regional destinations without an airport. This is a huge boon for us; we are truly an intermodal transportation hub in the heart of Europe.

Swiss has a total of 15 Airbus A340-300 and 14 A330-300 in its fleet, all named after a city within its home country’s borderlines. PHOTO: SWISS.

What about the business traveler and meetings industry? Is that important for Swiss?

Absolutely! The Palexpo convention center adjacent to the airport is a major draw for us. We can offer organizations and meeting planners group rates because of the bulk they are sending to or through our network.

Not only do we have numerous business hotels connected to the airport via free shuttles, but the entire city of Geneva is connected via 10-minute train ride free of charge! Travelers simply collect a ticket from inside baggage claim.

This type of flexibility and accessibility gives us tremendous strength in selling Geneva as a meetings and incentives destination and feeds into our goal of developing local traffic in addition to connecting passenger growth.

How does the Star Alliance network fit into the growth plan?

It is a major part of what we do on a daily basis. Not only do we connect passengers from the Lufthansa and United feed we receive locally (United flies daily from New York/Newark and Washington Dulles), but we are also now connecting passengers from Air China’s Beijing flight. Through codeshare traffic, we connect passengers from Emirates’ new flight from Dubai despite it not being a Star Alliance member. Our updated Senator and Business lounges are the feathers in our cap for frequent flyers.

You came to Swiss International Airlines from Nestle. What are you bringing to the hub and industry model?

It’s a fresh perspective. Swiss has a long history of talented people, but it was quite a fun challenge to enter an entirely new industry at a time when we were overhauling a local product.  Besides that, as a former student of Ecole hotelière de Lausanne, I have a high affinity to the tourism industry and I appreciate the direct contact with customers. The concept of high quality and customer service is deeply rooted in my philosophy.

Geneva Airport is key for the airline’s robust network, with over 30 destinations scheduled for the upcoming Summer 2014. PHOTO: SWISS.


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Ramsey Qubein

Ramsey Qubein

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