• Madrid Investment Attraction

Elena Cabrera (Ryanair): “Ryanair’s global website is managed from Madrid”

Elena Cabrera is Ryanair’s new country manager in Spain, a position that did not exist until a few months ago and that responds to the company’s need to have a visible face in one of its most important markets. This year marks two decades since Ryanair landed in our country.

In this context, Madrid is doubly important: not only is it the base for 13 of the 78 aircraft they have throughout the country, but it is also home to Travel Labs, one of its three innovation offices. The other two are in Krakow and at the headquarters in Dublin.

M.I.A.: The pandemic fully impacted the airline sector, and this seems, finally, the summer of recovery. How are you dealing with it?

E.C.: Tourism has been one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic, if not the most. But thanks to the government’s ERTE (furlough scheme) we didn’t fire anyone. This has also made us very agile when it comes to returning to the market. The prospects for this year, knock-on wood, are not only to return to pre-pandemic levels but to exceed them.

In 2019 we had 46 million passengers entering or leaving Spain with Ryanair routes. The goal for fiscal year 2023, which runs from March 2022 to March 2023, is to reach 50 million passengers.

M.I.A.: That means a recovery of tourism in Spain.

E.C.: Yes, in general tourism is recovering excellently this summer. A very good summer is expected.

M.I.A.: What profit forecast do you have?

E.C.: We are still at a loss. We want to minimize our losses. This fiscal year was better than the previous one: losses were reduced to 355 million euros, compared to 1,015 million the previous year, while revenues improved, with sales of 4,800 million euros compared to 1,640 million the previous year. We believe that 2023 will be the year to return to profit.

M.I.A.: How many employees do you currently have and how are they distributed, geographically and by work area?

E.C.: It depends. We have two types: about 6,000 direct workers, including pilots, cabin crew and all the people who work in airports, and 150 more in offices, because the Travel Labs innovation hub is in Madrid. And then we have 30,000 indirect workers from associated companies, who work in baggage handling or other services for the company.

Our only office is in Madrid, on Calle Orense. That is the location of Travel Labs, because we do not have a corporate office as such. The rest of the employees are spread out geographically.

There are always plans to keep growing. We have already made the presentation of the summer routes and soon we will present the winter ones. Some have seen record growth, we are well above 2019 figures in cities like Malaga, Valencia… We have more capacity. In Santiago we have put extra planes. We have 78 planes in Spain. The idea is to grow and continue looking for staff. At Travel Labs we are constantly looking for systems engineers, UX and UI specialists, digital marketing and innovation professionals, etc.

M.I.A.: What does the Spanish market represent for Ryanair?

E.C.: It is one of the most important markets. The first is our domestic market, United Kingdom and Ireland. And number 2 and 3 are disputed between Spain and Italy. In Italy we don’t have a corporate office either, everything is centralized in Ireland. Hence the need to open up, to have nationals as the company’s spokesperson. My nomination responds to this need.

M.I.A.: In 2017, Ryanair announced the launch in Madrid of its technological hub, the aforementioned Travel Labs. What is that hub like today?

E.C.: There are different teams working there: marketing, communications, product, user experience specialists and everything that the use of the web entails, and then there is customer service and the paralegals, who are not lawyers, but are part of the legal team.

Ryanair has three hubs: one in Poland, one in Ireland, which is the headquarters, and one in Madrid. The Ryanair global website, the app and customer service are managed from Madrid. There are team leaders in each country, but we also have directors who control the lines of business and who are based in Dublin. Krakow and Madrid are satellites.

M.I.A.: How does Travel Labs fit into the Ryanair structure in Spain?

E.C.: I work from the Orense office, so I am informed of global developments on the web. There are between ten and fifteen different nationalities in the office, because from here support is given to other countries such as Italy, France, etc.

M.I.A.: Is it easy to find to workers at the hub?

E.C.: At first, in 2017, it was more difficult to find Spanish professionals, but now there are more and more. A lot of English is still spoken in the office though. The marketing team leader is Spanish, but there are Portuguese, and Italian workers in the team… There is a mix.

M.I.A.: Why was the hub opened in Madrid? What did the company see in the city?

EC: It made sense. Spain is a very important country for the company. We focus not only on opening offices, but on everything that has to do with relations with local and national stakeholders. Moreover, Madrid is a well inter-connected city. And to lure both national and international professionals you must be very attractive to ensure that they stay and want to be there all year round.

We have 58 routes that depart from Madrid and 13 of the company’s 78 planes spend the night here. For us that is important, we are not going to go to a city where we do not have a base. It is where you have made the investment and it made sense to open the Labs where there was a base.

M.I.A.: Is Barcelona a base? Would it have made sense to open the Labs in another city?

E.C.: Yes, Barcelona is a base. And yes, there are other cities where it would have made sense. But Madrid is the capital, which seemed to us an important plus. And in Catalonia the problem is that there are two bases: Girona and Barcelona, so it made more sense to centralize operations in a city like Madrid. And I would not rule out going to Malaga, though this is my own opinion. There are many international companies that are setting up headquarters there. A lot of work is being done on deseasonalisation, improving the profitability of routes in winter and Malaga has good connectivity. But Madrid has everything going for it and it is a city that attracts a lot of international workers. Madrid has plenty talent and is very attractive.

M.I.A.: Are you in touch with the local administration in Madrid, be it the City Council or the regional government?

E.C.: Yes. We work hand in hand with the Madrid administration, particularly with tourist institutions. We talk about the routes that we launch, if these are of interest to the city… We work constantly with both, depending on the topic.

M.I.A.: What kind of support have you been offered since your arrival?

E.C.: The channels of communication are open. They have always shown interest in collaborating with us. This does not depend on the City Council or the Community, but to continue growing we need to lower airport taxes. When I commented that Italy and Spain are vying for second place, it is because Italy has lowered airport taxes. At Ryanair, costs and decisions whether to operate more planes or increasing capacity are studied carefully. In Spain the rates were frozen for a time, although in La Palma they have been lowered to increase tourism after the volcano erupted. We have four new routes there: Santiago, Madrid, Barcelona, and Milan.

M.I.A.: How does the arrival of cheap AVEs (high speed trains) affect Ryanair on routes such as Madrid-Barcelona?

E.C.: It doesn’t affect us. In fact, we are very much in favor of strengthening the railway lines in Spain. We do not operate such short flights. At the time we offered the Madrid-Barcelona route but not anymore, because the train works so well that we don’t see any point in it. In Spain, on domestic flights, we only operate the Balearic and Canary Islands, and Santiago-Madrid. The rest of the 58 routes we have are international. We promote international connectivity more than domestic connectivity, which is well covered.

M.I.A.: What selling points do you think the administration should emphasize about Madrid to attract international companies like yours?

E.C.: More than a particular selling point, it is necessary to give the city more visibility. It is no longer about what Madrid has to offer but about giving it more visibility in the face of competition from other European countries.