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Elevating Budget Travel

An Interview with Einar Örn Ólafsson, CEO of PLAY airlines
Jana Pijak
March 27th, 2024

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Einar Örn Ólafsson is the CEO of PLAY airlines, previously serving as chairman of the board at the company. Einar has been involved in the operation of numerous companies, both as an investor, executive and board member. He was previously the CEO of both Fjarðarlax and Skeljungur, and also has extensive experience in capital markets. Einar graduated with an MBA degree from New York University’s Stern School of Business in 2003 and holds a B.Sc. degree in industrial engineering from the University of Iceland.

1. What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation is at the core of our company's ethos and strategy. It involves identifying opportunities to enhance the customer experience, improve operational efficiency, and drive sustainable growth. We need innovative thinking to solve challenges we face every day in our business. Whether it's implementing technology to streamline booking processes, introducing AI to reduce manual labour in IT, Finance or Commercial, or developing unique inflight options, innovation is about finding creative solutions. With these solutions we lower cost and can therefor offer competitive prices to our customers.

By embracing innovation, we can stay ahead of the curve, adapt to changing market dynamics, and ultimately, deliver exceptional experiences that set PLAY airlines apart in the competitive aviation landscape.

2. How do you and your team generate new ideas?

We generate new ideas through workshops where team members from all departments collaborate, share insights, and brainstorm tailored solutions. This approach fosters creativity, encourages cross-functional collaboration, and ensures that our ideas are aligned with the unique needs of our business. Additionally, we maintain open communication channels and idea-sharing platforms to continuously stimulate innovation and drive positive change within our organization.

3. Do you have any specific rituals for resetting creativity?

One specific practice we embrace involves encouraging team members to step away from their usual work environments and find inspiration in different settings. These experiences provide opportunities to relax, recharge, and stimulate fresh ideas.

4. What is the biggest challenge you face while innovating?

Balancing the desire for innovation with the need to maintain operational stability and reliability. This balance requires careful planning to minimize disruptions and maintain the high standards our passengers expect from us.

5. As the new CEO of PLAY airlines, what strategies do you envision implementing to sustain the company's growth in the highly competitive low-cost airline market, particularly focusing on the expansion of routes and customer experience enhancements?

Over the past three years, in my role as Chairman of PLAY's board, I've collaborated closely with the previous CEO to implement a shared vision. Our focus has been on maximizing the advantages of operating a hub-and-spoke model from Iceland, facilitating seamless connections for passengers traveling between Europe and North America. Looking ahead, our primary objective remains identifying optimal destinations to further enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of this model.

6. PLAY airlines has recently introduced new routes to Vilnius, Madeira, and Marrakech. Could you elaborate on the decision-making process behind these route selections, and how do you foresee these expansions contributing to PLAY's overall business objectives?

Selecting Vilnius was a straightforward decision for us due to the substantial Lithuanian population residing in Iceland and frequent travel between the two nations. With a significant carrier exiting Vilnius, we identified an opportunity to serve this route and hold an optimistic outlook for its success. Madeira Island, being a part of Portugal, aligns with our existing popular routes to Lisbon and Porto, favored by Icelandic travelers. Additionally, there's a sizable Portuguese community in Iceland, further supporting this expansion. Marrakesh represents an exciting addition to our network, offering a unique experience for tourists accustomed to European travel. Despite being in Africa, Marrakesh is only a five-hour flight from Iceland, making it even more accessible than Tenerife, with a shorter flight time of 30 minutes.

7. PLAY airlines prides itself on its pay-for-what-you-need model, offering passengers customizable options for their travel needs. How do you plan to further optimize this model to meet the diverse demands of modern travelers while maintaining affordability and competitiveness?

We are optimizing ancillary pricing further by enhancing even more dynamic pricing. We are optimizing new products and our own products with a 3rd partner. We also aim to optimize even more personalized email to increase post booking sales.

8. Looking to the future, how will PLAY airlines continue to be a leader in innovation?

We will do so by staying true to our strategy of being a digital first company. What we mean is that we will always look for a digital solution to our problems to save cost. When we save cost, we can continue to offer competitive prices and make travel more affordable. That way, our passengers can spend less on their flight ticket and more on their destination, or as we say: Pay less, PLAY more!.
References: flyplay