The Flexible Bus Line Restarts Engines After LockdownANDREA INCONDI, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF FLIXBUS ITALY AND BOCCONI ALUMNUS, TALKS ABOUT THE STRATEGIES THAT MADE THE BUS COMPANY A MAJOR PLAYER IN THE EU TRANSPORT INDUSTRY AND HOW THE FIRM IS RESTARTING OPERATIONS AFTER THE FORCED STOP CAUSED BY THE PANDEMIC
Thanks to digital technology and a particularly aggressive marketing policy, Flixbus has been able to transform long-haul bus travel from a product that had been graying with time into a modern and successful service. "The ability to access a wide-ranging offer of travels anywhere and anytime through a practical and free app, in a regime of total flexibility powered by a dynamic pricing system, has proved a winning strategy", summarizes Andrea Incondi, managing director for Italy of what until recently was a European start-up and Bocconi alumnus twice over, with a Bachelor and a Master’s from via Sarfatti.
A combination of elements that has made inroads especially among the new generations.
Yes, the pricing model, similar to the one used by major airlines, and the implementation of a multi-platform booking system have played a crucial role in attracting a young public and, in particular, out-of-town students and young workers who have jobs far from where they live and have come to appreciate affordability and reliability of Flixbus. Added to this are certaing marketing innovations, such as the availability of electrical plugs and Wi-Fi on board, which are now imperative in today’s hyper-connected society. Among projects that are being tested, there is also the distribution of 3D glasses on board, because we plan to bring augmented reality to travelers on our buses.
The pandemic has hit the industry hard, however. What kind of countermoves have you put in place to cushion the shock?
Bus transportation has been more heavily affected by the health emergency than other modes of transport, due to absence of timely economic aid from the Italian government, which has ignored the sector’s plea for help in spite of its importance (in 2019, Flixbus transported 10 million people throughout Italy), especially for thousands of Italians residing in areas linked exclusively by bus routes and therefore at risk of isolation. During the March-April lockdown, we had to hibernate the entire Italian network and fleet, but have gradually reactivated bus connections since. The number of cities we currently serve is about 280, compared to over 500 served before the pandemic.
Before all this, the Italian market was growing faster than the global average, although we are not a very digitized country. How do you explain that?
A determining factor is the Italians’ widespread desire to travel, which is however frustrated by a lack of transport infrastructure penalizing those who move around for business or pleasure. Many Italian regions are still poorly connected by traditional modes of transportation, with entire territories left uncovered and largely disconnected from the rest of the Peninsula. The Flixbus service also has a great social value: it links small and medium-sized towns to the country’s major cities and strategic nodes, thus helping valorize a national heritage that has few parallels around the world. In this delicate period of economic reopening, bus transport is called upon to play a significant role for the many out-of-towners who are now returning to the cities where they study or work, as well as for the revival of tourism.
What are the fundamental drivers of global growth for Flixbus today?
Among the fundamental objectives guiding the operations of Flixbus, in Italy and abroad, is intermodality, i.e. the implementation of an integrated mobility system combining several forms of collective progressively replacing private motorized vehicles. The company values underlying this modus operandi, which contemplates, for example, the expansion of Flixbus interconnections between hubs of collective mobility such as railway stations and airports, are environmental sustainability and attention to the needs of users demanding ever greater practicality from transport carriers.
The electric mobility revolution is already a reality in urban transportation. To what extent does it affect you?
We consider ourselves pioneers in the implementation of green solutions in medium- and long-distance bus travel, not only with regard to electric mobility but also in the use of alternatives to diesel fuel. In addition to being the first to introduce a 100% electric long-distance service in France, we have entered into an agreement in Germany to launch the first fully hydrogen-powered long-distance bus, and most recently we have implemented a new feature on the Dortmund-London route, by installing the first solar panels on our buses: an experiment that has enabled us to reduce fuel consumption by 7% with a consequent reduction in CO2 emissions. We are eager to uncover the many benefits science and research can bring to this sector, because we want an industry traditionally considered static to be able to live up to its commitments in terms of social and environmental responsibility.
"My training at Bocconi was crucial to being capable of interpreting constantly evolving market scenarios and cultivate that spirit of entrepreneurship which should be an indispensable prerequisite for every manager". This is how Andrea Incondi reads his past at Bocconi in terms of his professional career, which took off after he graduated from the BSc in Business Administration in 2004 and completed his MSc in Management in 2008. Before taking his current position as Managing Director of Flixbus in Italy, he first worked for Henkel in HR and then took the position of Trade Marketing Manager at Fater (a joint venture between Procter&Gamble and the Angelini Group). He then joined Business Development at Flixbus, where, since 2015 he has had the task of overseeing growth and development of the Italian market. “If I take a look at my career as a whole, I think that having to juggle different business units and functions made a strong impact on my formation as a person and as a manager,” comments the young top executive. "Such diversification of skills has enabled me to understand the business potential of corporate systems and identify those synergies that can make the most of them".
by Emanuele Elli
Translated by Alex Foti