Felix Antelo CEO of Viva Air, tells Portada how the Colombian ultra-low-cost airline is expanding into new markets, including the United States. Antelo also provides interesting insights into how low-cost airlines are marketed in Latin America vs. the U.S. and more.
The global low-cost carrier market is expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 8.6% to US $247 billion in 2025. A substantial amount of that growth will be coming from Latin America. Colombia’s ultra-low-cost Viva Air is part of a new breed of carriers that are democratizing travel in Latin America. Viva Air intends to open fifteen new routes in the 2022 – 2025 time frame, including new flights from its hub in Medellin to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Curacao and Aruba. Other new destinations are also planned out of Bogota. In North America, Viva Air has been flying for four years to Miami and has a four-month-old route to Orlando. The airline expects to add flight routes to New York and Toronto.
Aligned with Viva Air’s expansion plans is the company’s rebranding. Formerly known as Viva Colombia, in May 2021, the company rebranded as Viva Air to facilitate its development throughout the region, while inviting consumers to “Fly More”. The company also recently got its newest Airbus A320neo airplanes and expects to close 2021 with 19 airplanes and 2022 with 31. “We invested US $2 million in a new website, as well as in a new app and even a new yellow-based uniform for our crew,” Viva Air CEO Felix Antelo tells Portada
Key elements of the rebranding are the tag line “vuela mas” (“Fly More”) as well as the use of the color yellow. “Yellow is a color that relates to optimism, it is also cheerful, modern, and young.” In addition, for the Latin American region, only the word Viva is used; without the “Air”.
The regionalization of the brand also plays an important role in Viva Air’s rebranding. “The rebranding is aligned with the regionalization of our brand, our previous brand was very Colombia oriented and included the Colombian flag in the logo,” Antelo adds. “We are replicating on a regional basis what we have been doing in Colombia and are introducing the ‘Viva effect’ by reducing the fares between 30% and 50% vs. traditional airlines.”
We are replicating on a regional basis what we have been doing in Colombia and introducing the ‘Viva effect’ by reducing the fares between 30% and 50% vs. traditional airlines.
Viva Air’s Marketing
Antelo tells Portada that 80% plus of Viva Air’s marketing investment is in online marketing. (European ultra-low-cost carriers like Easy Jet or Ryanair invest a similar proportion in online marketing.) It includes online advertising as well as social media. SEO and SEM play an important role with 10%-15% of sales attributed to these marketing disciplines.
Overall, though, Antelo notes that his company does not depend much on Google, and mostly uses its own e-mail database.
Viva Air also will be launching a loyalty program, based on discounts for 5 to 8 trips. The company also recently hired a consultancy to implement a more developed CRM program. “Airlines are with banking the industries that have most data about their customers. We are in the very early stages of maximizing the use of that data. We are working on a project to maximize the use of predictive data,” Antelo remarks.
10% to 15% of Viva Air’s sales can be attributed to SEO and SEM.
Viva Air: Applying the Ryanair Model in Latin America
Ryanair, the ultra-low-cost Irish carrier, is the majority owner of Viva Air and wants to replicate the Ryan Air model in Latin America. According to Felix Antelo, CEO of Viva Air, there are “key differences that need to be taken into account to adapt the Ryan Air model to our reality.” One of these differences is that Ryan Air takes cash payments: “Approximately 20% of sales are in cash, many of our customers do not have a credit card. We integrated cash payment methods for our customers in our offering,” Antelo notes. Another key difference is that 20% to 25% of Viva Air’s sales come from OTA’s (online travel agencies), versus approximately 10% for Ryan Air, which sells 90% of its tickets directly through its own website. “We sell more than 70% of our tickets on our website, that is a very high number for Latin America, but we do need the OTA’s,” Antelo asserts.
Cash sales and more reliance on OTA’s differentiate the Latin American low-cost market from the U.S. and Europe.