Two years after announcing Ryanair would “be nicer to people”, its chief executive, Michael O’Leary is signalling yet another change at the airline. He says the company wants to become a sort of “Amazon for travel in Europe”, a website where you can buy your flight, rent your car, book your hotel room and even buy concert tickets.
It has, he says, the scale to do it. On the basis that the airline will be carrying 100 million passengers a year – and counting – he’s probably right. Not only that, businesses selling such things to travellers would surely be happy to have Ryanair offering their services to its customers.
This could mean problems for the growing band of online businesses that earn their crusts from fulfilling an Amazon-type role for various travel services. It is pretty clear that O’Leary has their markets in his sights when he says that the airline wants to “disintermediate all the disintermediators”.
In one way, this is simply history repeating itself. Ryanair was one of the first companies to realise that you could use the internet to “disintermediate” travel. Instead of going to an agent to book flights, consumers went to the airline’s website and cut out the middleman.
The airline has always offered services such as car hire through its website. The difference here appears to be that it has realised the potential it offers.
Along with its always-getting-better programme, the company has stepped up investment in development, with a big focus on working out how to sell more products.
It has also woken up to the fact that consumers are increasingly looking to the likes of Trivago and CarTrawler for various services. Presumably its thinking is: why let them have the business?
Ryanair is not always the first to twig something. US airline Southwest came up with the low-cost model, EasyJet saw how it could be adapted for primary airports and business travel.
However, once the Irish airline decides that it can make an idea work, it goes after it with a vengeance, and often ends up doing it better than anyone else. It is going to be interesting to watch it going after the disintermediators.