‘I estimate that holidays will be 10 percent more expensive next year’

Chaos at Schiphol. strikes in Sweden. Austria locked for winter sports enthusiasts. Code orange for the winter sun in Egypt. And yet the 2021/2022 season was the best ever for Sunweb Group.

With more than five hundred employees, the tour operator is one of the largest in the Netherlands and also successful with package tours elsewhere in Northwest Europe. The company published accounts on Thursday. The turnover amounted to just under 1 billion euros, where in 2019 before corona it was 704 million euros. The operating profit ended – after two years of losses – over 40 million from 2019. Sunweb, owned by the capital fund Triton, does not want to be more precise about that.

“This shows the beauty of our business model,” board chairman Mattijs ten Brink said from a hotel room in Stockholm on Wednesday. He is in Sweden to buy a tour operator to strengthen Sunweb’s position in Scandinavia. “We don’t have our own hotels and planes [anders dan concurrenten als TUI en Corendon] and can switch quickly when needed. This explains our great results. In addition, we bought very competitively from airlines and hotels and invested heavily in digitization.”

And above all: People wanted to go on holiday again last year. Ten Brink sees a revival of package travel. “It’s package travel 2.0: On the one hand, the flexibility and freedom of choice of a trip that you put together yourself, on the other hand, the guarantees and convenience of a tour operator. Since the pandemic, customers value these securities more. From us and other tour operators – we are not the only ones who are successful.”

The figures could have been even better without the chaos in European aviation, says Ten Brink. “The first day when things went wrong at Schiphol, we had 50 percent fewer bookings than the day before.”

How big is your injury?

“Sales could have been significantly higher, profit millions more. It is not only due to Schiphol. In Denmark and Sweden we were affected by the week-long strike at SAS, in Belgium by the strike at Brussels Airlines.

“Airlines also had a shortage of staff. For example, the German low-cost airline Eurowings had major problems in continuing to fly its schedules this summer. Very unfortunate, because we quickly set up an alternative to Schiphol with them. Eurowings had to cancel flights from Düsseldorf and Münster.”

Should you claim damage at Schiphol?

“Through the travel umbrella organization ANVR, which coordinates the damage, we are in constructive discussion with Schiphol about compensation for the damage suffered.”

Sunweb has for some time harbored European aspirations, emphatically also through its own growth. Now you are buying a Swedish company. Why?

“In addition to the Benelux, we want to develop a solid second pillar. Scandinavia is obvious. The markets are comparable, the customers like the same trips, the digitalization is about the same.

“We started in Denmark ten years ago and have grown on our own. We would like to do this faster in Sweden. We quickly arrived at Airtours. It has existed since 1998, is the fourth largest tour operator in the country, about 10 percent of us in terms of revenue and customers. Airtours focuses on smaller destinations in, for example, Greece. So don’t offer a big resort next to TUI, but rather a hotel on a lesser-known island.”

Also read: How do the Dutch go on holiday? After all, especially by plane

You are also announcing an agreement with the Finnish Neste this week. This will provide more sustainable petroleum based on, among other things, used frying fat; less CO2emissions from the aircraft you rent. Sunweb buys 385,000 litres sustainable jet fuel (SAF) per year. It seems like a lot, but it’s not.

“Well, that’s a lot when you consider that we are not an airline. We are the first travel company without our own aircraft to take this step. It’s also a lot when you consider the availability of SAF. Not much is being produced yet.

“But of course it is little if you look at the total consumption of all our customers. We want to take a serious step towards offsetting our emissions [bijvoorbeeld door bomen te planten] to reduce our own emissions.”

Shouldn’t you be taking much more drastic steps to reduce your impact on the climate? Fly much less until aviation is truly greener and offer more alternative transport?

“I do not want to experience electric flight, on the scale we now operate on, in my lifetime. Holidays don’t disappear either. And the attractiveness of the Mediterranean continues to be great.

“Yes, we must look at alternative transport options. But you also need to address the core of your product. Then there is really only one option, and that is sustainable aviation fuel.”

What percentage of the kerosene used by a Sunweb flight consists of SAF? The government wants 14 percent of all jet fuel refueled in the Netherlands to be sustainable by 2030.

“Less than 1 percent – that’s what we do plus what the airlines themselves add.”

The biokerosene is now much more expensive than regular kerosene. Do you pass this on to your customers?

“No, we do not charge directly for that. We pay for the investment from our own profits.”

Holidays won’t be more expensive because of the greenery?

“No, holidays become more expensive for other reasons. Our industry depends on three things: energy prices, labor costs and food prices. These are the three things that increase in price the fastest.

“I estimate that holidays will be 10 percent more expensive next year. We are not yet seeing people save on their holiday from the bookings for this winter and even next summer.”

In June, you reported on a collaboration with European Sleeper, the Dutch start-up that wants to run night trains. Why don’t you offer those trips yet?

“It is difficult to obtain sufficient ‘rolling stock’. If you book a train now, it will be your turn in five years. The approval of new train services is also proving difficult. You must have approval in all EU countries, among other things for security reasons.

“It would have been so expensive… It didn’t fit with what we want to offer our customers. That is why we have postponed it. Of course, there are already trains to winter sports areas, but we really want to bring something new. Only then do you get people out of planes and cars.”

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