LATAM Airlines has become the focal point of the air travel market in South America since it was formed by the merger of LAN Airlines and TAM five years ago.
The combined company announced its new identity as LATAM in 2015 and introduced its new “universe of experiences” last year, along with its new livery and uniforms. The journey of establishing a new brand with consumers and employees, and fulfilling the promise of a unified, pan-continental airline, continues.
The end goal is to make LATAM the undisputed standard-bearer for travel to, around and from South America. It’s well on the way, winning awards including accolades for its in-flight experience and sustainability achievements.
“The brand represents everything in Latin America, from the colors chosen to the logo to the expertise that both companies have in destinations,” Ernesto Echeverry, LATAM’s marketing director for the USA, Canada & Caribbean, told brandchannel. “That post-merger journey has been an incredible one for LATAM as a brand and a company.”
LATAM is Latin America’s largest airline group with one of the largest route networks in the world, offering air services to around 140 destinations in 25 countries, and it’s present in six domestic markets in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, in addition to its international operations in Latin America, Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Oceania and Africa.
The airline employs more than 43,000 people worldwide, operates more than 1,300 flights a day and transports 67 million passengers a year in one of the most modern fleets in the world. To build loyalty and also anchor its identity in the Latin American region, LATAM has been beefing up its content about destinations, rolling out mobile apps and personalizing the customer experience.
For more insights, we spoke with Echeverry (right) about the post-merger journey of building the LATAM brand and customer experience in North America and beyond.
What do you want people to understand and appreciate about the LATAM brand?
Think about the two companies that came together. They’re the most powerful airlines in the region. Both LAN and TAM started looking at the opportunity and noted that it was a natural match, and by consolidating their power within the region they would become the biggest network in Latin America.
When we came together in 2012 we started working on the back end. Then the region slid into a huge recession, from which we have been recovering. It was extremely harsh after the merger—most of the countries were having problems with their currencies and one of the biggest countries, Brazil, TAM’s powerhouse, was struggling.
But in coming together and consolidating, the new brand became a natural fit. If you think of the LATAM brand, it has helped us get out of that recession and consolidated the airline as a brand in the region. In 2016 when we launched the brand, it wrapped everything and helped pull us out of the recession and has worked incredibly well for us.
The brand represents the region. If you think about the rest of the world, no one brand represents a whole region. That has allowed us and has allowed every single passenger that comes on board a LATAM airplane to understand that we own that region. It has brought us to the level of one of the biggest airlines in the world, now we’re No. 11 or 12, and we’re seen as one consolidated airline that is a global player.
What is your strategy for growth and expansion?
The strategy doesn’t differ much from other airlines. We’re working to establish joint business agreements with our North American partner, American Airlines, and in Asia we’re actually consolidating some partnerships in terms of code-sharing with other carriers that will help us expand our sales network and so from a consumer standpoint, the consumer benefits.
It brings additional networks and lowers price points and increases frequency; it helps a lot from the consumer standpoint. In South America we launched 11 additional routes, and we opened Washington-Lima last year. This year we announced Orlando-Rio and just announced that starting next summer, we’ll be flying Boston-Sao Paulo nonstop.
Any digital challenges in designing and implementing the new LATAM experience?
One of the biggest challenges that LATAM has faced is the fact that different markets through the region have varying degrees of digital adoption. One of the big things we’ve focused on is really understanding the consumer journey and making sure we understand the common denominators, and invest in what is going to be most valuable and relevant in the markets across the region.
It’s a costly proposition but the company has committed, as we launched the brand last year, $100 million in technology for digital development. That’s being invested as we speak, in understanding that journey and developing the right tools for the consumer and to work on that experience.
Technology allows you to follow the customer not only during the air ticket purchase but also while preparing for the trip and even after. How is LATAM creating a seamless, end-to-end personalized experience?
We’ve always thought of ourselves as leaders in the region. One of the steps is promoting our region, allowing people to understand the nuances of the region itself and each country that makes it up.
So we start with inspiration. A few months ago we launched one of the most robust platforms with destination content that helps the consumer understand where he’s traveling and find additional reasons to be traveling to each of those destinations.
We also have invested in developing multi-device platforms. We have launched two mobile applications that go all the way from purchasing and check-in to flight history; another application takes care of in-flight entertainment, and flight attendants have iPads where you can leave your comments as you’re traveling.
So we have worked on making sure we create a seamless and personalized experience as consumers go through pre- and post-journey. [Consumers] want everything at their fingertips. From that standpoint the company has provided a diversity of options.
They range from mobile solutions and apps to Latin American onboard options for food. Our menus are inspired by Latin American foods. We go all the way from letting people choose mobile solutions to food options and we have probably the most updated and comfortable VIP lounges in the region.
Also, we have an efficient boarding process. We are constantly improving the customer experience and giving them power at their fingertips. We’ve created a series of experiences around booking a flight but also before you book the flight and in-flight entertainment options, all to make it easier and more powerful for the consumer.
Are you still on track to roll out the new livery to the entire fleet by the end of next year?
The process is underway. We have 58 aircraft that are in service with livery and from narrow body to wide body that go regional or domestic flights, and one of them is a cargo aircraft that has also been painted with the new livery.
But we have almost 305 aircraft in the fleet, so that requires some time to complete the transition. So this will take some additional time. The region went through a rough patch and we had to focus on some operational things that we needed to improve to stay extremely competitive.
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