You became the head of LAN Ecuador at the beginning of 2013. What has been your perception of Ecuador's airline sector?
The airline sector is very modern featuring the latest generation aircraft, which is not typical of many airlines in South America. It is an industry that has high standards in terms of safety and airport infrastructure. It is a dynamic market because of the country's geography, which makes it very decentralized. The size of the market is also large considering the size of the country and the per-capita level of travel is very high. There is a culture of air travel in Ecuador because the corporate sector is used to high-frequency travel. They demand fast and high-quality service, which makes the market very fluid.
How does that compare to the last market you worked in, Peru?
Peru was much more centralized with domestic traffic flying through Lima, and much less traffic between other cities. In Ecuador, there is a higher rate of flights in the corporate sector. The new airport in Quito is somewhat farther from the city, so people plan their trips more. A lot of people just get on a plane to have lunch with their client, and then return to the office in the afternoon. People are used to the flexibility of commuting between cities.
What does good service from an airline mean to you?
Good service is a combination of attributes: modern airplanes, proper maintenance, scheduling, and rigorous training standards. We have also worked hard to enhance cooperation with the authorities, the government, the airports, and our suppliers. In Quito for example, there is an issue with turbulence during the summer due to the mountains situated near the landing path. We found out that most of the turbulence comes from a certain area, and is caused by volcanic activity and air rising from the Amazon, so we mapped out a different route. This change has reduced the number of canceled flights at Quito airport by 20%-30%. We also worked with the Quito airport to make an alternate plan to land from north to south because sometimes the wind changes direction. We have also improved efficiency with a larger runway. The old airport was at a much higher altitude, and required more distance for take off, while the new airport is built at a lower elevation making it more efficient and safer.
LAN is also working with the Fundación Municipal de Turismo para Cuenca. What is the significance of that for your operations in Ecuador?
Our business depends on tourism, and we work closely with the tourism authorities, with Quito Turismo, and the Ministry of Tourism, with whom we recently signed an agreement to promote Ecuador. We are trying to promote more international and Ecuadorean travel. We work with the Ministry of Tourism on marketing campaigns to bring in tour operators and to learn how to promote Ecuador through training and education. We also work with tour operators internationally for very specific marketing campaigns. We have quotas for certain places, like Barcelona and have sales teams all over the world.
How much of your business is in cargo here?
Cargo represents about 25% of our business, and the growth of the flower sector has played a large part. Ecuador has become one of the world's greatest exporters of roses. Growers here have introduced many new varieties that have attracted new consumers, and opened up fresh markets. Ecuadorean flowers are in high demand in Eastern Europe and Russia.