Powered by a smile

Thanks to stiff competition between airlines, travelling has now become accessible to almost everyone. As if to prove the point, there’s been a record jump (29%) in the number of passengers served by airBaltic from Lithuania and Estonia in the first five months of this year. In our interview, Sanda Teihmane tells us what role travel agencies still play in the present environment and how they’re adapting to modern-day travel trends.Thanks to stiff competition between airlines, travelling has now become accessible to almost everyone. As if to prove the point, there’s been a record jump (29%) in the number of passengers served by airBaltic from Lithuania and Estonia in the first five months of this year. In our interview, Sanda Teihmane tells us what role travel agencies still play in the present environment and how they’re adapting to modern-day travel trends.

 

How did your career at airBaltic begin?

An exciting eleven years has passed by in the blink of an eye! I began working for airBaltic as a customer care specialist at the airport ticket counter, and I was still studying at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music at that time. I had almost finished my bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance when I moved to the city ticket office and became a senior customer care specialist. That was quite an experience, because back then we still issued hand-written plane tickets. Later we had a cantankerous ticket printer, which only worked if you happened to correctly guess the magic letter and number combination it liked on any particular day. But nothing stands still in the aviation industry, neither in the air or on the ground. And in 2010 I began working in the sales department as an area sales manager.

You don’t stand still yourself, either, and you enjoy taking on challenges. What’s been the most interesting experience you’ve had at this job?

I’ve been responsible for airBaltic sales in many different countries, but it’s definitely been most interesting to work with countries like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. Working with people from other cultures provides very valuable experience. I was promoted to Key Account Manager in 2015. Now, in addition to my immediate markets and projects, I’m also responsible for helping to develop selling strategies and tactics for my team. In the sales department we’re mostly involved with establishing contacts and working with travel agencies and corporate clients, such as companies whose employees travel often for business. Of course, I also take pride in the projects and ideas that I’ve developed myself and am especially pleased when I hear positive feedback about them. For one of our most recent travel agency events, at the Energy Discovery Centre in Tallinn, we created a presentation that was shown on the huge domed planetarium ceiling there. It was titled ‘Powered by airBaltic’ and was quite a challenge to prepare, but that’s exactly what made it so fun.

What are the current trends in the aviation market, and how have they changed over the years?

If we’re talking about sales channels, then one of the main trends in recent years is the rapid development of online purchasing. Most of our passengers are booking flights on the airBaltic website and through online travel agencies. A parallel trend is meta search engine sites, which compile results from different flight booking websites and navigate clients to use one or another airline or online travel agency. So-called Millennials are the main target market for online travel tools. There are also various trends in types of travel. People are looking for special and unique offers that cater to their interests, for example, food travel and gastronomy tours or bleisure (business + leisure) trips that combine work with entertainment and culture. It’s not only important where you’ve been but also what you’ve done.

How popular are travel agencies nowadays?

Travel agencies are still very significant in the big travel picture, and they’re an important distributor of airline services. Both individual and group travellers, as well as corporate clients, governmental organisations, and the maritime industry use travel agency services. Actually, anybody who wants a professional travel plan and budget control. Travel agencies invest a lot in having knowledgeable employees. Besides, considering the geopolitical situation in the world today, it’s important for people to have support available 24/7.

The internet has made it so very much easier for people to plan their own trips. What motivates them to turn to a travel agency?

Most travel agencies have a website, which allows people to book travel services online. It takes time to plan your own trip, and it’s easy to get confused with all of the many offers online, so traditional offline travel agency services are still popular, especially when travelling with family or to an unknown destination. Travel agencies help clients find the best offers that correspond with their interests and budgets. Travel agencies work with a wide spectrum of services (airlines, charter operators, cruise lines, hotels, etc.), and their job is to guarantee quality, precision, and safety – all for the best price possible. They can help their clients arrange for many different things, including tickets, accommodation, meals, car rental, tours, and entertainment events at the destination, and thus they help them save time and money.

How does airBaltic manage to compete with other airlines in travel agency offers?

There’s a lot of competition amongst airlines, but there’s also a lot of demand, because travelling is no longer just for the chosen few. airBaltic operates the widest network of direct flights in the Baltics. That’s another trend that passengers appreciate very much, because direct flights save them a lot of time. airBaltic’s advantage in the Baltic States is that we’re very accessible, supportive, obliging, and quick in our decision making. We’re also always ready to work with travel agencies and create sales campaigns together with them. airBaltic’s growth has made for a positive environment in the sales department, and it also helps boost the airline’s recognition and people’s trust in our services.

What do you do in your free time?

Well, I don’t have all that much free time, because I’ve got a son who’s three and a half years old. But I do very much enjoy all sorts of activities, such as golfing, diving, and playing in the big Latvian Song and Dance Festival orchestra. Right now I’m playing a lot of golf. I really love the game, and I was recently even elected to be on the board of the Latvian Women’s Golf Club. I also take every opportunity I can to travel.