WestJet sets a course to the future
Making it new
2019 is a big year for WestJet, and Canadian Travel Press had the opportunity to chat with Jane Clementino, Director, Agency Sales for the carrier about the arrival of its first Dreamliner and operation of its first revenue flights with that aircraft; its new Business and Premium services; code-shares and joint ventures; new opportunities for its travel agency and trade partners; and a whole lot more. So read on and learn all about what the future holds for WestJet – it’s a great story.
Canadian Travel Press: Can you talk a bit about the arrival of the Dreamliner – how important is this for WestJet and why is it so important?
JANE CLEMENTINO: We are so excited to have received our first Dreamliner and already commenced the first revenue flights between Toronto and Calgary. This really is a first step for WestJet in becoming a global international carrier. We are looking forward to bringing our award-winning guest experience to new markets and to new mutual clients, opening up opportunity for more Canadian travel. International clients can enjoy a seven-day stopover in a Canadian gateway city for no additional airfare and then continue to their destination. That is a tremendous opportunity for our guests to explore more of Canada.
Our first routes will be direct from Calgary into London (Gatwick), Paris and Dublin and will solidify our Calgary hub. As we take delivery of our ten Dreamliners in the next few years, we will be able to expand our hubs in Toronto and Vancouver as well.
We realized that direct flights from Calgary to Europe were a great opportunity for us, and, in order to continue to grow, we needed to focus on the premium traveller. With that new focus, we also refreshed our brand, our guest experience, our premium product offerings and enhancements to our WestJet Rewards program with the addition of the Platinum tier.
The destinations are a huge advantage for us with the Dreamliner, but we are also able to offer service and products that were not possible before. The biggest addition is the new Business class cabin. Whether our clients want to work, sleep or just unwind, our Business experience has been designed to give them even greater levels of comfort and choice. They will enjoy hot towels, a lie-flat bed with luxurious blankets and pillows, a unique unisex amenity kit and a dine anytime restaurant-style menu with contemporary dining ware and cutlery.
The Dreamliner is a state-of-the-art aircraft with a quieter cabin, more humid air, Northern lights mood lighting and the biggest window size of any aircraft – just to name a few highlights. Guests will enjoy the comfort and experience, and no matter what cabin they are in they will arrive refreshed and relaxed. We are really excited for the future of WestJet.
CTP: In the past couple of years, WestJet has been doing a lot more codeshares, as well as joint ventures – that’s a change from the earlier years – why are these kinds of relationships important to WestJet? What are the opportunities that they provide for the airline?
CLEMENTINO: With the future of WestJet becoming a global airline, it is so important for us to build partnerships with other airlines and provide our mutual clients with greater travel options. We recently announced our intention to form a joint venture with Delta and that will give guests substantial advantages on flights between the US and Canada. With this joint venture, WestJet and Delta will cover 95% of the demand in transborder travel. This will promise an expanded network with more frequencies, pricing alignment, destinations, improved airport connections and enhanced frequent-flyer benefits. It will really be another great opportunity for both airlines.
Along with this joint venture, we are also looking to expand our partnership with Air France and KLM to greater enhance our international service. Airline partnerships already contribute over $250M in annual revenue. We already offer a chance to earn WestJet dollars with our code-share partners and travel to destinations all over the globe. All of this combined will offer guests a world of opportunity, starting with WestJet.
CTP: As WestJet becomes a global, network carrier, do you see new opportunities for agents? And can you identify some of those opportunities? BTP commission, higher commission levels on business and premium cabin
CLEMENTINO: We are always looking for ways to enhance the relationship between our travel agents and WestJet. We want to see our partners receive exceptional service and continued value. We believe that constantly updating the TA resource site (westjettravelagents.com) and rolling out more self-service options increases productivity and satisfaction. We have had extremely great feedback about our Travel Support Team and will continue to add resources and training to continue the great service. Of course, we would like to continue the momentum of the air-only and WestJet Vacations bookings that TA’s make for us, so we will continually evaluate the commission levels and ensure that we remain competitive.
We do offer higher commissions on Premium and Business fares. We believe we are offering a great product; and we are pleased to offer higher commissions for the upgraded cabin and service on our Dreamliner and higher commission for the refreshed Premium service on our existing routes.
With our Business Travel Program (BTP) agencies can manage corporate bookings and enable clients to receive discounts while TA’s earn commission. Agencies can also access the BTP through the newly introduced WestJet Biz tool making travel management easy for the busy corporate client.
CTP: There’s so much going on at WestJet these days – new routes, new initiatives, etc. – I’m just wondering how big a challenge it’s going to be to get all that information out and make sure that both the industry and the travelling public hear it? What’s your strategy?
CLEMENTINO: We asked a lot of our partners in 2018. There were a lot of operational communications sent out, and it helps set us up for success for 2019 and beyond. Fare Class Realignment was our largest communication and toll on the industry, but essentially it paved the way for the new cabins and aligning with industry standard to ensure we are easy to do business with going forward. I really believe we set the foundation already and can now focus on the more exciting communications such as new routes, new destinations and the exciting features of our Premium product on the 787, 767 and 737 and, of course, our Business cabin and enhancements for our premium traveller.
Our upcoming trade expos will be a great way to connect with our partners in the industry and focus on the new WestJet. We are very passionate about our new service and aircraft and cannot wait to share the excitement. We will meet with numerous agencies when we host in Ajax, Mississauga, Vancouver, Langley, Edmonton, and Calgary beginning in April.
We also will continue to meet with the Travel Agent Advisory Board (TAAB). The invaluable feedback and suggestions we have received have been critical to our growth, and we are happy to have that relationship and will continue to listen for ways to improve our business and ensure we are the best airline to book and travel with.