N. Kazmer, Wizz Air: Who Comes First, Takes It All

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | January 7, 2006, Saturday // 00:00
N. Kazmer, Wizz Air: Who Comes First, Takes It All Natasa Kazmer, Corporate Communication and Public Affairs of Wizz Air. Photo by Yuliana Nikolova (Sofia News Agency)

Natasa Kazmer graduated from the College of Foreign Trade of Budapest. After studying and working in France she joined Malev as market research executive. In her last two years with Malev Natasa led the corporate communications team. After leaving Malev early 2003, she was one of the six members of Wizz Air founding team. Currently she heads the Corporate Communication and Public Affairs of Wizz Air.

Ms Kazmer joined the Fifth International Conference on Tourism "Bulgaria - Dream Area", which is taking place January 6-7 at Radisson SAS Grand Hotel. She was among the speakers at the panel session about the role of international carriers and tour operations in developing the region and the future of Bulgaria as regional convention centre.

Sofia News Agency Editor-in-Chief Milena Hristova talked to Natasa Kazmer.

Q: Wizz Air was the first low-cost airline to enter Bulgaria's market. What made it attractive for your company?

A: When Wizz Air was born in May 2004, we wanted it to be THE low-cost airline of Central and Eastern Europe. National carriers and about fifty low cost airlines had already taken all the Western European markets, so the only direction of expansion was east and south.

The establishment of the company coincided with the accession of ten new members to the European Union, which gives the freedom to fly wherever you want and at whatever airport you want. After a very successful penetration of the market in Poland and Hungary, we focused on countries, which are just on the edge of entering the European Union.

I would not be too euphorical about this since we have struggled quite a lot. People don't know much about low-cost carrier - some have misperception about its quality, others think flying is only about rich people.

Secondly, Internet penetration is a major factor for as it is our main distribution channel. Experience shows that people find the way to get the ticket if they know that the price is cheap. Wizz Air offers its customers the option to buy their tickets at travel agents. Often the travel agents put a surcharge, but the printed out confirmation shows exactly the price of the ticket and the amount of the surcharge. We want people to understand that buying a ticket online is cheaper. Another way of paying is by bank transfers.

Bulgaria is definitely a strategic direction with of a lot of opportunities. This is an absolutely new market and we wanted to be first. Who comes first, takes it all.

Q: How does Bulgaria compare to other countries in the region from the perspective of a low-cost carrier?

A: It is difficult to say. We have been operating in Hungary and Poland after the two countries entered the European Union. The markets are also different - Hungary experienced an invasion of eleven low-cost airlines and Poland had seven.

In terms of legislation, we caught a very good moment when the government liberalized the market. In order to get ready for the times after EU entry, the airlines must first adjust and perform on different levels.

Legislation-wise we comply with all the requirements. I must say we are very grateful to the Bulgarian authorities for the way in which they treated us. We appreciate their liberal approach. Ukraine and Russia for example remain completely closed.

At the end of the day, what people want is an affordable, convenient and comfortable travel. With this in mind, we are planning to recruit a Bulgarian crew on board.

Q: How do you assess the past year and particularly your work in Bulgaria?

A: It was a great milestone for us to enter Bulgaria. We have been on the market here for no more than three months and have already carried a total of 13,000 passengers. In terms of passengers number the market will build up just as quickly as in Poland. There are huge challenges and possibilities here in terms of Internet penetration and route designation.

Q: Could you tell us more about the plans of the company in terms of more direct flights and more services?

A: We definitely need to move on and try to offer more direct flights. Flying by Budapest at a low price is very convenient, but takes time. For the time being however we cannot fly directly from Sofia to London.

Q: What do you rely on most in the competition with other low-cost companies, a situation which is likely to be seen in the next few years in Bulgaria as well?

A: The most important thing about a low-cost company is that "cost" is for a reason in the name. We have the lowest cost base in Central and Eastern Europe. The advantage of Wizz Air, which - don't forget is not even two years old - is that its management is made up of people who understand the basics of low-cost. RyanAir would only talk about cost to you, for example, and basically they would be right. SkyEurope, which is competing with us and are on the Stock Exchange, have been under performing because they are not able to keep the price down.

Q: How do you achieve the low cost, which is the key factor for your success?

A: Wizz Air has a young, single type Airbus A320. All six are equipped with 180 comfortable leather seats. The average age of the fleet is 2 years. These new aircraft represent the latest technology, which helps to keep our operational cost down. These aircraft are thoroughly maintained by Lufthansa Technik, the world's leading maintenance company.

Airports' choice is another major cost factor. We try to fly to cheap airport although in Sofia we don't have a choice.

Last but not least, our efficient staff also gives us a competitive edge.

This year will be very, very interesting in terms of airline business and airport development in Bulgaria. 2007 will be booming, but 2006 will see all the changes that Bulgaria already has to do.

Q: What are the benefits that Wizz Air will bring to Bulgaria in the long term?

Look at all the complementary industries, surrounding airlines - hotel services, restaurants, bus services, airports. Our experience in Poland shows that all this marks a considerable progress after a low-cost carrier enters the market. When the country becomes more accessible, more money will naturally come to it.

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