Air charter broker Air Partner recently revealed encouraging figures for 2013. We caught up with the company’s director of inclusive tour programmes Alan Murray to hear about how its work with tour operators stimulated some of its growth.
How has the tour operating division grown in 2013? How has business been for the arm this year?
2013 has been a great year for Air Partner’s tour operating division.
From a standing start we based two aircraft in the UK (Gatwick and Manchester) and also had dedicated aircraft in Paris and Lyon for our French operation.
Our performance on the UK-based aircraft was exceptional both in terms of on-time performance and also customer satisfaction – so much so that word spread and we were able to work with our partner airline to maintain one aircraft to operate ski flights this winter.
We have specifically worked with independent operators who historically have found it more difficult to source aircraft capacity on independent suppliers.
We were also very fortunate to have been able to work with customers such as Olympic Holidays, Sunvil Holidays, Ski Esprit, Inghams, and Silverski to name a few.
In France we worked with all the major tour operators and exceeded the hours we expected to gain on our based aircraft, which we are delighted with.
What has the reaction been like to your product since launching with the likes of these companies?
We worked exceptionally hard to ensure we took much of the hassle out of the operation by offering turn-key solutions to our clients on issues such as assisting the manifesting process; arranging and co-ordinating catering and giving 24-hour operational support, ensuring we added real value in our relationships.
We gave timely reports to customers on supplier on-time performance and reacted swiftly to any customer feedback to ensure we provided exceptional service with the support of our suppliers.
It is undoubtedly the hard work and dedication from the whole team at Air Partner, along with our customers and suppliers that made summer 2013 such a success.
Where do you see the future growth for the division?
We have identified a specific area within the leisure sector where we feel we can add value, not just in aircraft chartering but also through other additional support services in which Air Partner is well established.
Leveraging the support from other areas of our business will enable us to neatly offer some “out of the norm” solutions, which we look forward to sharing with our clients soon.
Separately, in the core tour operating sector we have some exciting plans which focus particularly on continental Europe, as the marketplace there is less mature than the UK and thus presents significant opportunities.
You joined Air Partner after three years in the cruise industry (at Voyages of Discovery). What, if any, changes have you seen in the aviation market since your absence?
I enjoyed my time in the cruise sector immensely, and interestingly, there are actually many parallels with the aviation world.
I have noticed many changes in the aviation industry over the last three years – three things I think have been particularly notable are:
Firstly, the change in the shape of the network of low cost carriers and how these now encroach far more on the leisure sector. It is interesting how they have also adapted to a changed landscape and had to drive revenues, particularly though ancillary sales.
Second is the fact that the sector has had to live with ever increasing costs, driven particularly by increased fuel costs, Air Passenger Duty and emission trading, without a favourable balance in exchange rates to help offset these. It’s particularly interesting that in general, businesses have not only survived but in many cases thrived, even against that backdrop.
Thirdly, the way the sector has really embraced new technology.
The only thing that never changes and never ceases to amaze me is that no matter what is thrown at the sector – be it social, political, economic or geographic (in some cases all of it at the same time!) – we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and just get on with it. Egypt this year is a very good case in point.
How is the outlook looking for the tour operating division going into 2014? Any news or developments you can share?
In summer 2014 we plan to have three dedicated aircraft in the UK; two in Gatwick and one in Manchester.
We shall be operating at least one dedicated unit in Paris and aspire to have two there, although the market tends to move a bit later in France.
We are also planning to have one aircraft based in Milan, and are actively talking about further aircraft based within Europe for summer 2015 and beyond.
We have some great ideas and see opportunities where we can leverage our strengths in all source markets.
We are also going to be looking at introducing some internal system solutions as part of our commitment to continually provide a top quality service to our clients.
All in all, we are very excited about the future of our tour operating division; we have solid foundations, a desire to continue to provide innovative aviation solutions, a sound financial base, dedicated teams in all our offices and great customer and supplier relationships.