We talk to María Jesús López Solás, commercial director of Iberia Network and Alliances Development
After two years of the pandemic, how is the summer going? Can we now say that the recovery has consolidated?
The truth is that the numbers are quite good. The latent demand we saw a few months ago has become a reality, and bookings for this summer are reaching levels similar to those of 2019. In some markets, they are even higher than before the pandemic. For example, in the Balearic and Canary Islands, we’ve scheduled 30 per cent more capacity for July and August than in the summer of 2019. We’ve brought back practically all our network of destinations. We’re growing in some markets – such as the US – which, this year, is our star destination, and we’re really strengthening our presence in Latin America.
Is demand strong for long-haul routes?
Yes, especially for Latin America, which is one of the markets that has recovered most. There have been destinations – such as the Dominican Republic – which have remained ‘open’ to tourism. These have been ‘refuge’ destinations for Spanish tourism, and this summer we’re operating more flights to them than in 2019. But there are many other places where we’re experiencing a genuine explosion of tourism. These include Costa Rica and Panama in Central America and, of course, the United States, the intercontinental market un which we offer the greatest number of destinations and frequencies. In the peak summer months, there are up to 120 weekly flights, four per cent more than in 2019.
The routes with the United States have been strengthened with two more cities (Dallas and Washington, D.C.) and the return of San Francisco. What do these destinations mean for the company?
Flying to Washington, D.C. means taking our customers straight to the great US capital. This is where the country’s main governmental institutions are concentrated, and, at the same time, there are tourist attractions such as the Capitol, the Lincoln Monument and the National Mall. Dallas is the big metropolis in Texas, and the hub of our partner, American Airlines. This route allows us to offer our customers unbeatable connectivity for flying inside the US. In fact, we’ve already decided to extend the route to Dallas during the winter season. And San Francisco is a very iconic city. It quickly hooks you with its colourful Victorian houses and trams, and it’s home to fantastic sites such as the Museum of Modern Art. With these three destinations, we now have nine in the US, including Puerto Rico. For many of them, we’re adding capacity together with our partners American Airlines, British Airways and Finnair. This also allows us to offer our Iberia Plus customers more options for collecting and using Avios.
How has Iberia led the way in its connections between Europe and Latin America?
Over the months, we’ve offered a very stable flight schedule with Latin America. This has given our customers peace of mind. If they needed to fly, we were there to take them to their families or wherever their business required. What’s more, I think we’ve been ‘brave’ by offering more flights than our competitors. This has made it possible for us to consolidate ourselves as the first choice for our customers. For this summer season, we’ve already scheduled 220 weekly flights between Europe and 18 destinations in the Americas, with twice-daily flights to countries such as Argentina and Colombia, and 19 weekly flights to Mexico.
What will be the most popular destinations this summer?
Once again, we see that the destinations most attractive to travellers are those that offer outdoor activities. In Spain, the islands are the most popular – both the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. In Europe, favourites are Portugal (where we’ve added Faro, Funchal and Ponta Delgada), Greece, Italy and Croatia. In the latter, we offer an operation that allows you to explore the country from one end to the other, entering via Dubrovnik, Split or Zagreb, and departing from any of those three cities.
What is the role played by Madrid Airport – Iberia’s hub – in the recovery of tourism?
Fundamental. We must have a powerful hub that’s able to compete on a level with the main European airports in Paris, London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. This will allow us to evolve towards a new model of tourism that is able to generate greater wealth and more employment. This model is less seasonal, will create more recognition on the international scene, consolidate Spain as a tourist power in markets such as the US, and even open us up eastward, towards the Asian market.