Image: Angélica Geisse

APEX Insight: Facebook, Airbnb, Uber. These international companies, once startups, are transforming the way we travel. Airlines have taken note, fostering that entrepreneurial spirit in aviation. In this section of the multipart feature, we look at how Ryanair applies Silicon Valley suave to its recruitment strategy.

Recruitment is key to Ryanair’s innovation. An employment ad for the airline’s digital department, Ryanair Labs, encourages “innovation hackers” to apply. “We’re seeking to hire the best of the best to reimagine the online travel sector,” said Robin Kiely, the airline’s head of Communications, at the launch of Ryanair Labs in 2014. Photos of the Dublin headquarters show an open, colorful office space full of quirky images, a game room and a slide to get staff to the floor below. “Whether you write code or copy, we want freethinkers, creatives and people who can not only imagine, but build amazing experiences.”

One of Ryanair Labs’ first challenges was revisiting the airline’s mobile app – and realizing it had to be scrapped. “It was nearly unusable,” David O’Callaghan, Ryanair’s head of Development, told the crowd at UXDX 2016, a user and developer experience conference in Dublin. Starting from scratch proved to be worthwhile: After the new app launched, mobile traffic to Ryanair’s home page exceeded the number of visits from desktop computers.

“We’re seeking to hire the best of the best to reimagine the online travel sector.” — Robin Kiely, Ryanair Labs

Since then, the airline has developed a slew of complementary online travel services, such as Ryanair Car Hire, Ryanair Rooms and, most recently, Ryanair Holidays, for package vacations. The new product makes the most of Ryanair’s route network (the largest in Europe), high website traffic (1.5 million home page visits per day), and customer base of gloomy-weather-weary Europeans yearning for an escape to sunny Portugal or Spain.

Establishing Ryanair Holidays was also a strategy to avoid being swallowed up by search engines and online retail giants like Google and Expedia that are edging into the online travel market.
“It is going to be an interesting space,” says Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer. “Everyone is going for the same ball … and everyone wants to own more of the trip. Ryanair will try to undercut traditional package holiday firms by forgoing commissions to drive volumes.”

Jacobs once name-dropped Airbnb, Hotels.com, Homestay.com, Hostelworld and Booking.com as potential partners, but with Ryanair Labs, it seems the airline has much bigger ambitions: “To be the Amazon of air travel,” Jacobs says.

“Think Like a Startup” was originally published in the 7.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Caroline is managing editor at APEX Media.