Originally from Ireland, Ciaran Donohue has spent most of his working life in the US travel business. Ciaran is the Product Manager for XL Airways France, an independent Paris-based, scheduled airline with service from four US gateways to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. He brings a diverse background to XL Airways both in the retail and wholesale sides of the business. Ciaran began his career in a temporary position at Tourism Ireland back when it was known as the Irish Tourist Board. He then spent many years as owner/manager of a retail agency in New York, specializing in flights and packages to Ireland and the UK. On the wholesale side, Ciaran has worked at CIE Tours, American Express, and most recently, as a senior staff member at Cloud Tours, a Greece and Turkey tour operator. What all of this experience has taught him is a deep understanding and respect for travel agents as a powerful channel to target and influence customers.
Ciaran is responsible for sales, marketing, and promotional efforts across the US. He works closely with regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Miami to not only improve sales, but also to get the word out to agents across the country about how XL can benefit them as an affordable alternative for getting their clients to Europe.
Travel Research Online: What motivated you to pursue a career in the travel industry?
Ciaran Donohue (CD): I started in the industry in a temporary position, not particularly planning to remain in it. But I was lucky during those early years to meet and work with some remarkable people who I admired and who have remained life-long friends. Somewhere along the way I made a decision that any business where I can meet such great people is worth pursuing. I was also fortunate that I had one or two really good mentors.
TRO: Tell us about your day-to-day role at XL Airways.
CD: Every day is varied and challenging, but as the sales, marketing and product manager, the emphasis is always on getting the word out about XL Airways and what it represents in the market. I’m lucky that I have a great support team to help me with day-to-day tasks, some of which could include reviewing graphics for a new advertising campaign, compiling numbers and statistics from our latest sales period, or writing a press release. I particularly enjoy interacting with travel agents, consolidators, and tour operators that book XL Airways on a regular basis. I always learn so much when I speak to our regular customers, in regards to the competition, service issues, or about new opportunities that might be on the horizon. I believe it’s very important to have a continuous dialogue with your customers.
TRO: What sets XL Airways apart from other airlines traveling to France or Europe?
CD: The primary difference is that XL Airways offers affordable fares, yet remains a full service airline. Some airlines will unbundle and then charge for all of their ancillary services, but that’s not our model. With XL you can check in one piece of luggage up to 44lbs. You receive a delicious full hot meal onboard, and our in-flight staff are friendly and totally customer-focused. Unlike some carriers that can only be booked via their website, we’re in all the major GDS systems.
TRO: Can you tell us about the XL Airways fleet?
CD: On our transatlantic routes, we fly modern Airbus aircraft. From JFK and Miami, we use the A330-300 which has 408 seats with a 3-3-3 configuration in the economy section. This aircraft comes equipped with two power outlets in each row so you can bring your computer, tablet, or personal entertainment device and never worry about losing juice. From San Francisco and Los Angeles we utilize the A330-200; this model has 343 seats in economy, also with a 3-3-3 configuration, and also 21 seats in our Premium Galaxie cabin with a 2-3-2 configuration.
TRO: Are there any programs or services XL Airways provides that you wish more agents were aware of?
CD: Yes; one of the great features is our premium economy product called Premium Galaxie. It’s available on our flights from SFO and LAX. This service gives you an upgraded experience with additional checked luggage allowance, refined wine, and cuisine along with the extra room and comfort of a roomy 36″ seat pitch. It’s priced competitively, especially when you consider the extra comfort and amenities you’ll receive on those longer nonstop flights from the west coast. It’s also worth remembering that XL Airways offers up to 18 flights per week from the US to Paris so we have a really convenient and frequent schedule.
TRO: What can travel agents expect when they book their clients on an XL Airways flight?
CD: First, they can expect to find a competitive and affordable fare. Travelers usually save hundreds of dollars when they book XL over the competition; affordable fares is one of our competitive advantages. Second, their clients will travel on a full-service airline without the need to sacrifice comfort and performance. We have an excellent on-time performance record, and our ground and cabin crew are customer-focused and deliver superlative service.
TRO: What is on the horizon for XL Airways?
CD: 2016 will be our first year flying from the LAX gateway, so we now fly from four US cities: New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles nonstop to Paris/CDG. I’ve no doubt as we continue to grow you’ll see us opening more gateways from major cities in the coming years.
For more information on Ciaran and XL Airways, visit them online at www.apg-usa.us/xl-airways-france.