What does being “the Amazon of travel” actually mean? It can’t just mean that it plans to sell lots of stuff in addition to its current offering, otherwise why not be the “Walmart of travel” or “the eBay of travel”? The point is, Ryanair can’t be like Amazon because Amazon is not a distribution channel, it is a brand with a purpose. If you’ve ever stopped to look at the Amazon logo you’ll see it has a little connector from its A to its Z – its subtle but it captures the core brand idea, which is to give perfect access, with perfect transparency of pricing, to everyone in equal measure; without setting foot outside the front door.
Ryanair the Amazon of retail
Ryanair however, isn’t a brand with a purpose, it’s a financial institution. It has aggressively attacked other airlines by eliminating all unnecessary cost (like customer service) in order to win the price war. But it’s purpose wasn’t to democratise the skies and give everyone access to the world, or to expose the manipulation of oligopoly – it was simply to make money. That’s why the business decided to get itself a puppy and be in Kenny Jacobs’s words (Ryanair CMO) “as liked as we are useful”; with its Always Getting Better programme. Today people don’t just care what you sell, but why and how, so being cheap but loathsome doesn’t pay.
So could Ryanair ever be anything like Amazon? Maybe surprisingly it could, as long as it clearly defined a purpose beyond making money. The travel industry is full of middle men who hide costs – from ticket touts to resort banana ride reps. So if Ryanair decided to rid the world of the bandits that steal your hard earned holiday money and bring transparency and choice to cut them out, they would actually have a real purpose. Consumers wouldn’t care if Mr O’leary makes money from it because he’d be doing the right thing, for a reason, and for somebody else’s benefit.
But they would also need to learn the lessons of Virgin. Mr Branson created Virgin with a real purpose and in airlines they became the peoples’ champion by taking on the Goliath, BA and making flying, a party in the sky. As the brand proliferated, it entered categories where it had no right to be – where there was no Goliath to be slayed – in ventures like Cola and Vie; and they failed.
Unless Ryanair pursues this venture with a true purpose, it will fail too and all it will have is 6 more items waiting in the trolley.