Vueling buoyed by business travel lift

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Vueling hopes business travellers could comprise almost half its passenger mix by the end of the year as the Spanish low-cost carrier continues to grow in this sector.

The Barcelona-based operator has been developing a product for the business market, offering a business-class seat with food and drink, selling through the GDSs, offering Oneworld miles and lounge access.

"More than 40% of our overall passengers are business travellers and we aspire to increase this number to nearly 50% by the end of the year," said chief executive Alex Cruz at an Aviation Club event in London. "We will do this by continuing to add frequencies on key routes plus new services like the access to business lounges."

After a period of consolidation which followed the merger of Vueling and Click Air, the airline has grown rapidly this year, in part through the opportunities presented by the demise of Barcelona-based Spanair earlier this year.

Cruz says the market has replaced around 70% of the traffic lost at Barcelona following Spanair's collapse and that Vueling has been able to take a share of the this. "We have been able to satisfy a significant part of the traffic that was more Star Alliance-orientated," he notes.

But with the Spanish domestic market struggling amid the country's economic woes, Vueling has been looking elsewhere in Europe for growth - evident in the recent launch of new bases in Rome and Amsterdam. "Some 50% of our passengers originate outside Spain and nearly 10% actually don't even touch Spain," he says, pointing to transfer traffic.

Further pressure on the Spanish market comes from a sharp rise in fees across many of the country's airports. Charges at Barcelona El Prat airport will be put up €10 shortly and Cruz says further rises are expected next year and in 2014.

"The reaction is very logical [from restructuring airports operator AENA], but what we know is we live in a market extremely sensitive to variance in price," says Cruz. "If the total price goes up, there will be a number of people who will travel less.

"Our short-haul industry is highly price sensitive so this is a short-sighted, self-defeating and almost suicidal initiative that an economy still so reliant on tourism cannot afford."