2017 is a very important year here at dcs plus because we celebrate no less than 15 years of activity. It goes without saying that we are extremely happy and proud to have reached this point, but we also know that in a permanently changing environment one must keep up the pace with what is happening on the market (and the technology sector above all) and always find the means to attract and maintain trustworthy partners.
We have always invested time and effort into building up strong relations with our partners, that’s why in this celebratory year we decided to conduct a series of interviews with some of them, trying to find out how they see their collaboration with dcs plus.
For today, we would like to present you with a very interesting piece we did by interviewing Mr. Jens Schuster, Senior Director Franchising at Lufthansa City Centre – the worldwide travel agency franchise that is aiming to conquer more and more markets in the near future, as Mr. Schuster himself says.
Hello Mr. Schuster and thank you for agreeing to this discussion. For starters, could you please tell us what do you think about our company and our ongoing collaboration?
Jens Schuster: I find it very dynamic, very collaborative, super responsive and flexible. As a company, you leave an international footprint and that’s a very good match for our two companies because we are both working, acting and operating internationally.
Do you think that there’s something special that maybe recommends us as a company?
Jens Schuster: Yes, it is. The flexibility that you and your staff would bring along. It’s the understanding of different cultures and different markets that you have gained over the last 15 years.
And as a technology company you use a very human approach. You are human in a way that is tailor-made, and you consider your partners, including us, as cooperation partners and not only as customers.
Obviously, technology is extremely important for LCC, so what are the most important criteria for selecting your business partners?
Jens Schuster: The most important aspect that we consider is the availably of the product at a global scale. And when I say global, I really mean global – not just a few markets or a region, because we’ve always refrain from regional solutions.
Secondly, the sustainability of the offering, so we would like to see that we collaborate with a growing company. To be more precise, a company that it’s growing rapidly along with the growth and development of the markets themselves.
Travel is a rapidly evolving market and the same happens to technology so obviously, we only conclude contracts with well-established companies.
For instance, we wouldn’t have considered dcs plus back in the day, when it was starting to thrive, but we’ve seen that during the 15 years of being on the market, it has grown constantly over other technology providers from many other markets and that has caught our attention. We are very confident that we made the right choice by selecting you as partners.
You are working with more than one tech providers, so we would like to know: what are the main challenges that you happen to face when working with them?
Jens Schuster: Most of the time it’s the scalability of projects. We see a discrepancy between sales and deliverables afterwards. Probably this comes from the dynamics that sticks into technology as such, and the many uncertain issues – especially in an international environment.
Facing many uncertain issues, unknown ones, sometimes even depending on other tech tools or features, makes us want to work with well-established companies that have experience in dealing with all sorts of external and internal issues, strong technology companies that can allocate new resources and get the issues fixed.
Moving on, we are going to focus a little bit on LCCI and we would like to know what makes LCCI special and why should a travel agency want to join you?
Jens Schuster: First of all, it’s our footprint. We are truly global. So, for agencies today that are really searching for an international affiliation and want to develop their mid-size or small-size travel agencies into something bigger than just local, we are offering a further coverage.
The second thing is that we, as a franchisor, are offering products, technology and services that aim at the so-called ‘bleisure’ market. So, we have a very healthy mix between corporate agencies and leisure agencies and we are not only focusing on one segment, we are actually providing both. Which is unique.
The third thing that I want to mention is that we identify ourselves as a combined power of the entrepreneurs that are running our franchisees. Getting into this circle of excellence is a USP. These entrepreneurs have established their own agencies or might have combined forces with other agencies at a local level, but there are entrepreneurs that we have under contract.
The forth aspect is that we are pretty much unique in being German-based. We are the only German-based franchise travel network and the largest in Europe, so that is a differentiation from our American, British or Australian friends. This also makes a difference in a time when Europe is such a rock-solid economy in a way that is not as volatile.
The fifth thing worth mentioning is the brand that we carry and the proximity to an airline. We are very much unique because we provide all the expertise and all the know-how that we tap from the airline (which is our mother-company).
Founded in 1991, with over 5.000 employees and present in over 90 markets. Tell us something about LCC that we don’t know already.
Jens Schuster: You picked the correct numbers there, but we’ve always been strong on aligning with other networks, so joining forces with other major networks is one of our most important aims. We are not a stand-alone network.
This year, we joined forces with Travel Leaders Group, a major American-based travel agency franchise group in the USA. So, we are upsizing our network to literally the world’s largest travel network. We now speak of more than 50.000 travel experts (aka. Employees) throughout the 90 markets we have 9.500 agencies combined (LCC and Travel Leaders) and we have a turnover of roughly 35 billion US dollars.
That’s more than for instance AMEX, for instance BCD and the likes, so it needs to be noted that LCC is a unique product or service, or concept if you will, but we’ve always had very strong partners and Travel Leaders is just one of them, we have cooperation with ATPI and we are aiming for more partnerships.
With over 25 years of experience in the travelling field, we were wondering what’s next for LCC? Because technology is constantly evolving, things are starting to change, there’s a bit more instability on the market (both economically and politically) so what are your future plans?
Jens Schuster: To pick up from what I have mentioned earlier, we want to join forces with more friends, other networks and maybe even airlines. If you consider our network as an airline-based or airline branded travel agency network, there are maybe other airlines that may even love this thought.
The airlines are actually one step ahead of us because they formed their own network or their alliances throughout the globe in order to cover the world. For example, Star Alliance – Lufthansa being the founder and leading airline in this, or the Sky Team.
LCC wants to expand more in this regard, the Travel Leaders Group being just one of our newest partners, but there are more to come in the next year.
Technology also comes with that, so if you are joining forces with other networks you will have to face new technologies, new demands but also new opportunities that come along and we would like to be ‘thin-paper’ close to those airlines developments in this environment or in these days, predominately with Lufthansa.
We want to have a fully-working Direct Connect with Lufthansa Group (Austrian, Swiss, Lufthansa & Brussels), but we also want to expand in a very independent way. So, we want to integrate Direct Connect capabilities with airlines like AirFrance, British Airways, Iberia, KLM and so on – we have the vision of creating a Lufthansa City Center general distribution system – LDS – which would be a platform for our partners, for our franchisees and network affiliates, that would deliver the content in all various fashion and manner that is needed. It’s not enough anymore to rely on the GDS system (Amadeus, Sabre and so on) or going on the internet and have the direct connect to the airlines.
Also, we would like to conquer more than we did before, the DMC market we set up two years ago as a global incoming network, so we’ve combined the elite agencies that are providing incoming services to other buyers and we want to explore more that fields because this is a very tailor-based business. This is a field that we would like to develop in the next two to five years to come.
How does a typical day at the office look like for you?
Jens Schuster: There is no typical day at the office. There’s a little bit of routine, there is always a pending, pretty filled email inbox to be cleared in the morning and then it is my methodology of running through the days. I have my meetings, there are always issues to be solved, there is always staff to be motivated and always some strategic decisions to be taken.
At the end of the day I do another routine, the pre-planning for tomorrow and the following days. If I’m at the office.
And the last question. Do you have any recommendations for us as a company?
Jens Schuster: As I already mentioned before, I am very satisfied with you and not just the company, but also the people. We are happy to have you as partners. The recommendation would be to keep your very knowledgeable and savvy staff, that from our perspective really understands the customers (us) and our franchisees in a very good way.
Also, it is important to keep the promises that you make. This is not a criticism, but merely saying keep doing what you do, because this makes you very credible and very accessible and obviously successful.
In the end I would like to add something about both companies: there’s a really good match between us – it’s not like a German company working with a Romanian one, we are two internationally open-minded companies working together and that’s a joy.