Aer Lingus mobile phone bookings taking off
Northern Ireland consumers are still booking their flights directly with airlines while the majority of people across the globe use comparison sites, according to a director at Aer Lingus.
Dara McMahon, director of marketing, retail and digital experience at the airline, said customers across Ireland were increasingly using their mobile phones to book flights.
She was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of her appearance at tech event Digital DNA next month. It runs from June 6 until June 7 in St George's Market in Belfast and includes speakers from Google and Deloitte.
Ms McMahon is responsible for everything from traditional marketing and selling of the company, to its other retail elements as well as its reach online.
"The digital experience, it's basically all the improvement and enhancement we do to web and mobile," she said.
"With the digital marketing, through all the various digital areas and with our own mobile, there have been big changes, not just in the airline, but a whole movement to selling online.
"For a while, people would have gone to the Aer Lingus website to book holidays. The biggest change is the move to mobile first.
"We are seeing people using mobile phones to check what is available, but now there is more confidence, and with the enhancements we have made, people are more confident booking (using mobile).
"The end user experience is so much better. That's the biggest change."
Speaking ahead of Digital DNA next month, which will also include speakers such as Sir Richard Heygate, who was part of the team that invented the first online cash point, she said: "The main focus is telling them about the different areas we interact on the digital side."
She said that Northern Ireland and the Republic had a "unique vision" and customers tend to book direct with airlines, rather than using comparison sites and Google.
"They are only two or three ways off the island," she said.
"In Northern Ireland, you would look at Aer Lingus, easyJet. People go direct. Outside of Ireland, people could go to Google, and they are more aware of websites like Kayak and other aggregators.
"People in Dublin and Belfast go direct to an airline... we are a little different here because we are an island.
"Internationally, the experience is different."
Aer Lingus operates a regular direct flight from Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow four times a day.
Speaking about growth in the airline, she said former Irish residents is one big market, as is inbound tourism into Ireland.
"With the dollar being stronger, there are lot more inbound flights into Ireland and on to the rest of Europe," said Ms McMahon.
And Aer Lingus relies on its burgeoning social media presence in order to attract tourists from the US and elsewhere.
"We can't afford to take an ad in the New York Times, but the digital piece is much more cost effective,"Ms McMahon said.
"On the digital side we can reach more audiences.
"Outside of Ireland, the digital piece is huge. It is very measurable. If I put a poster up, I can't tell how many people have booked because they saw it.
"Digital is so much more accurate."
The Aer Lingus director said the advertising and marketing spend is "moving at quite a pace" towards digital, making up around 40% of the budget.