EasyJet has launched a new Holidays brand, hoping to snap up market share after the shuttering of Thomas Cook. But getting people to reassess the idea of a package holiday, and then book it with a low-cost airline, is marketing director Mary Newcombe’s biggest challenge.
“We’re trying to bring a much more flexible offer than the traditional package holiday people think of,” she told The Drum shortly after her boss, chief executive Garry Wilson, revealed the ambitious new business division to press.
“It tends to conjure up a very inflexible, seminal, 14-day trip to a concrete hotel on a hideously crowded beach. What we're offering is a more modern spin on packaging the different elements of a holiday. We are able to offer hundreds of destinations, multiple flights a day, and more choice on the types of hotels you can go to.”
It will sell packages to 5,000 hotels in more than 100 destinations with each booking coming with 23kg checked baggage per customer and transfers. The largely four and five-star hotels are split into categories including luxury, adult, family, boutique and ‘undiscovered’.
Despite the commonly held theory that the Airbnb-loving Gen-Z generation is turning away from package deals in their droves, research indicates that the sector is booming. Easyjet said that in Europe alone, the market is worth around £61bn per year with the UK contributing £13bn. That figure has grown 6% year-on-year.
“We're appealing to people of a younger demographic and equally appealing to an older demographic,” said Newcombe of the Holidays masterplan. “We have an upmarket demographic that flies with us – they are actually more Waitrose than Asda, which takes people by surprise.”
Targeting such a broad and upmarket group has led to heavy investment in the booking technology which will have to compete with the same experience offered by Silicon Valley tech giants muscling in on the travel sector. At the heart of the business is a website and app that will showcase all flights, hotels, and customisable transfer options. A partnership with Google led to the development of a map feature that allows potential holiday goers to explore the area around the hotel or landmark before booking. In time, it will later introduce a local ‘experiences’ section and car-rental.
But crucially, branding of any package deals will be minimal. People won’t be transferred from easyJet-labelled flight to the easyJet-labelled hotel via a big orange coach; rather, a private hire car – for example – will collect travellers and take them to their “hand-selected” hotels.
“We need to get people to consider them as quality holidays as opposed to them thinking it might be an orange box of some form,” said Newcombe.
The first effort in this mission to not only establish the easyJet Holidays brand, but spark the reappraisal of an entire category, is an advertising campaign created by ad agency VCCP.
Newcombe’s brief was for the agency to create something “optimistic, bold, and upbeat”. The resulting TV ad (above) aims to show the breadth of on offer through a game of hide and seek that stretches across Europe
“We didn't just want to do a category job. There are some well recognised and travelled tropes for sector advertising - the ice-cream, cocktail, walk down the beach,” she said.
“We needed to stand out with the proposition so we sure as hell wanted the advertising to stand out.
“Research shows easyJet is universally known, we really have very high levels of spontaneous awareness but not when it comes to people booking their accommodation with us. Awareness of easyJet now doing holidays is one of the primary things we need to get across [in the ad].”
It will debut today (29 November) during Channel 4’s Gogglebox before rolling out across TV, VOD, cinema, OOH, social, press, and display. Newcombe declined to comment on the total spend for the brand launch but said that 97% of ABC 1 adults will see it multiple times over the coming three months. “If you're out there in December you won't miss us.”
The second tier of the marketing effort is converting current easyJet customers to book a hotel as well as a flight. That will see Newcombe’s team blast passengers with in-flight announcements, on-board brochures, features in the in-flight ‘Traveller’ magazine and a wave of CRM activity to ensure its UK base is fully aware of the brand.
However, the launch has not been without its critics. Last week Chris Daly, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said it was an unwise move for the company – which reported a 26% fall in pre-tax profits to £427m to the year ending 30 September – in wake of the Thomas Cook collapse.
“The airline is taking advantage of the misfortunes of others by moving into the package holiday business, filling the gap left by Thomas Cook,” he told the BBC.
“The company has been shrewd in paying £36m for Thomas Cook’s runway slots at Gatwick and Bristol, but can chief executive Johan Lundgren and his team convince customers they are more than just a budget airline?”
That’s will be the big question for Newcombe and her new EasyJet Holidays team as it rolls out this campaign and another wave of activity to lure Winter travellers next Spring.