Ryanair rings fresh changes this week, but the woman responsible, Lesley Kane, is leaving. Ian Taylor reports
Ryanair launched new corporate fares this week, is poised to announce a deal with a second GDS and hailed sales of group tours through the trade as having “taken off”.
Now the carrier, which for more than a decade rejected all truck with travel agents and operators, is seeking a recruit from the travel trade to replace Lesley Kane, head of corporate travel and groups.
Kane took charge of the carrier’s trade relations in January, in a role new to Ryanair. Travel Weekly revealed she was leaving last Friday – becoming the latest in a series of long-standing Ryanair executives to stand down, including chief financial officer Howard Millar and chief operating officer Michael Cawley.
However, Kane said her decision “had absolutely nothing to do with the change in direction” at Ryanair. The carrier joined the Travelport GDSs in April and launched a group product in June.
Kane said: “The changes you’re seeing are changes we agreed in the last quarter of last year. I’m not aware of anyone leaving because the company is going through a period of change.”
She told Travel Weekly: “The group tour business has taken off and been welcomed by the trade. We’re selling a lot of group tours, doing business with tour operators we didn’t work with before. We’re getting over 300 group enquiries a day, with about 50% through the trade.”
Kane, who handles Ryanair’s GDS relations, also confirmed: “We’ve reached agreement with a second GDS. It will be announced in early September and we hope to be live later this year.”
She said GDS bookings “are a very small percentage of Ryanair sales”. But she expects sales to increase following this week’s business-travel product launch and said: “Expect further announcements over the next six months.”
Kane is leaving Ryanair to move back to Scotland with her family.
Explaining the timing of her departure, she said: “The corporate product and GDS partnership have been key projects.
“If you’re managing a project, it’s difficult to walk away.
“My plan is to start an MBA in Glasgow and have 12 months out. I’ve been at Ryanair 18 years. It has been an incredible journey for me and for the airline. When I started, Ryanair was a small regional airline operating between Ireland and the UK. Now we’re the largest international airline in Europe.”
Before taking her current role in January, Kane was head of sales and marketing for six years. She said: “Before that I was head of Ryanair direct for six years – at one time we had a call centre with 450 employees. I was involved in launching Ryanair.com and in terminating our GDS relationships in 2000.” It was Kane who reintroduced GDS bookings to Ryanair this year.
Now she said: “I’m going to miss Michael O’Leary and all the people here.
We work incredibly hard. There is a significant amount of pressure to achieve deadlines and to be the best. But we all thrive on it. We have all been there a long time. People are very loyal.”
Of her role, Kane said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for someone and we would like my successor to come from a trade background.”
She added: “Michael [O’Leary] thanked me for my work and wished me well, but he couldn’t understand why I would want to do an MBA.”
Chief executive O’Leary recently signed a new five‑year contract.