Air France-KLM GM: ‘Look Beyond Price, Focus on Choice’

Interview

Bas ‘t Hooft, general manager of Alps and Central Europe for Air France-KLM.

In August 2022, Bas ‘t Hooft, general manager of Alps and Central Europe for Air France-KLM, touched down in Budapest with his family to live. The Budapest Business Journal discusses his impressions of Budapest and Hungary and his thoughts on aviation and its future.

Having begun his career in aviation with KLM in 2007, ‘t Hooft speaks five languages and describes himself as a “driven commercial professional who wants to make an impact.” His first ever flight, when he was 10 years old, was with KLM.

“I was lucky that my dad’s employer put us in business class,” he says. “So, my first aviation experience was on the upper deck of a Boeing 747. That’s what triggered my fascination with aviation.”

From then on, ‘t Hooft says he was hooked. As a student, he traveled extensively. When it came time to choose a career, he was naturally drawn to the travel industry. His career took off with an internship at KLM. Apart from a little over 12 months with Delta Airlines, he has worked at KLM and now Air France-KLM for the duration of his almost 20-year career.

A significant part of the appeal of Air France-KLM for ‘t Hooft is the breadth of opportunities the company offers.

“Air France-KLM has a very open work culture. It’s not a top-down company,” he explains. “There are many opportunities to work in different areas, from commercial to cargo, from engineering to maintenance. I’ve been fortunate to work for the company around the world and in many, many aspects of the business. But there’s also plenty of room for personal growth.”

The general manager moved to Budapest with his wife and five children because the city is the Alps and Central Europe regional hub for the airline, stretching from Switzerland to Poland and Bulgaria.

Paris of the East

He’s happy to sing Budapest’s praises. “It reminds me a lot of Paris, where we lived before moving here. My first impression is that it has all the beauty and charm of Paris, but it’s also nice and friendly. I’ve yet to explore much of Hungary, but I took a long weekend recently and went down to the Balaton. Ilove wine, and we were in wine country. It was marvelous.”

Apart from its quality of life and convenient location for other European cities, Budapest also offers a skilled labor force. As ‘t Hooft says, “the Hungarians in my team are experienced and knowledgeable. I’m very fortunate to be working withthem.”

Increasingly, price is becoming less of a factor in air travel, certainly when itcomes to corporate travel.

In the Dutchman’s experience, corporate travelers are always looking for the best network and products. That of Air France-KLM extends to many destinations. It’s also investing heavily in its products, including comfortable, well-designed new cabins and seating.

“Apart from our network and levels of comfort, corporate travelers enjoy the value-for-money we offer them,” ‘t Hooft suggests. “Besides that, we have a corporate benefits program that offers them even more flexibility, priority andrecognition.”

This emphasis on comfort and value for money signals a move away from the selling on price that has characterized aviation industry marketing for many years.

“Look at the aviation industry up until the early years of this century,” ‘t Hooft points out. “We just used photos of people on beaches and added a price. We sold the idea of getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ as cheaply as possible.”

Selling the Experience

Today, customers are more interested in knowing, as far as they can, if they’re going to enjoy the experience of traveling. They’ve become used to looking at photos of products before they buy. Think of when you’re choosing a hotel; you’re happy to scroll through pictures of rooms and facilities to help make your decision, even down to what the breakfast looks like. Shopping for air travel is becoming more like this. Customers are also happy to shop around in expectation of comfort and value for money. Naturally, the industry isresponding.

“We’re more focused on how we differentiate our product from that of the competition now. There’s also the growing concern with sustainable travel. Our corporate customers, especially, are organizing their journeys more on the basis of traveling at the right time and for the right reasons, as well as making the right product choice,” ‘t Hooft explains

“They’re less and less likely to book one-day up and down trips purely for convenience. Especially if they can go to a meeting by train, for example.”

With this in mind, Air France-KLM lists train connections alongside flights on its website. It also offers what it calls “SAF contracts” to corporate customers. SAF stands forsustainable aviation fuel, made from materials such as cooking oil and wood residues, that can proactively reduce emissions by 75%. When corporate customers join the Air France-KLM Corporate SAF program, they help accelerate the use and production of SAF.

Looking ahead, ‘t Hooft sees the trends of buying on the basis of comfort and value for money and traveling as sustainably aspossible continuing in aviation for the next five years.

“We’re going to be encouraging customers to look beyond price when booking air travel and focusing on offering more choice, including that of sustainable travel,” he says. “And now that we’re getting back to pre-COVID-19 figures, things are looking very positive. We had great results inour last quarter.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of December 2, 2022.

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