Ryanair shows that being fearless and taking risks can pay off, says Steve Dunne, MD of Digital Drums

One of my favourite quotes of all time is credited to the US Second World War hero General Patton: “If everyone round the table is thinking the same thing, then someone isn’t thinking.”

In recent weeks this quote has resonated with me perhaps more than any time in my career, particularly as I attend various conferences and seminars that seem to be in full swing.

Be it airlines or management consultancies, economists or tour operators, speaking on stages around the industry, there is a growing feeling that a blanket of despondency is descending over the travel sector.

Speakers point to the weakness of sterling, and highlight potential travel bans, international terrorism and cyber security as threats to travel’s growth.

Of course, the rising cost of living, increasing inflation and Brexit also get highlighted with regular monotony.

One can be excused for thinking that the outlook for the travel sector is more along the lines of “batten down the hatches” than “let’s go get ’em”.

And this downbeat mood is always supported by statistics and trends, facts and figures that make it difficult to dispute the gloomy outlook.

Fearless fervour

So, it was very refreshing to be at Travel Weekly’s Business Breakfast recently when Kenny Jacobs, the marketing director of much-maligned Ryanair, was being interviewed.

At first, Jacobs was no different to previous speakers as he discussed Brexit, stating that it will be an “ugly divorce” regardless of being hard or soft.

But what made me warm to Kenny, and to Ryanair – an airline I must admit I haven’t been the biggest fan of in the past – was the fearlessness of the brand and its people.

From saying “We got that wrong” about an aborted initiative, to looking beyond aviation to the retail and, can you believe it, the internet dating sector, for inspiration for its website, the theme that weaved through the interview was one of fearlessness.

Diversification dividend

In the past four years Ryanair has repositioned itself from an airline that “ruthlessly enforced” its customer transaction approach to being a brand that wants to be liked and respected.

I was sceptical about how effective it would be, but when you hear the conviction, the positive outlook and that fearlessness to take risks, seize opportunities and spot the gaps, one has to look at Ryanair differently.

The carrier is looking at Amazon and its digital capability, budget supermarket Aldi and its product sales approach, and instilling the mantra of speed in everything it does to set itself apart from its rivals.

Talk of Ryanair’s website being a travel website with an airline at the centre, or of Ryanair Holidays challenging certain established brands in key sectors, is no longer deemed to be funny or even whimsical.

General Patton’s quote stands true. Brands such as Google, Amazon and Facebook were not thinking the same as the rest of the world when they started. And Ryanair is showing the answer to the cloudy future is best met head-on – by thinking differently and being fearless in the process.