Mumbai: SriLankan Airlines, as the flag carrier of the island nation, has had a challenging year in 2019. The Easter Sunday attacks and the travel advisories which soon followed crippled the dynamic tourism industry. But timely government intervention, and a joint outreach by the tourism board and travel trade have ensured the industry bounced back in no time.
The ‘world’s most punctual airline’ has announced its intent to fly into Ahmedabad and Kozhikode in India as well as Sydney and Ho Chi Minh City this year
V Ravindran, the new Regional Manager (India and Bangladesh) of SriLankan Airlines is confident that the largest foreign carrier serving India in terms of frequency and entry points is on a path of expansion and growth in 2020.
The airline operates 120 flights weekly and flies to 11 destinations in India currently – Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Coimbatore, Trichy and Madurai. The daily frequency to Delhi was enhanced from two to three last year. It also announced its intent to fly into Ahmedabad and Kozhikode which will get operationalized in the second half of this year. “With two new entry points that we have announced, we will be flying to 13 cities in India. No other airline has our connectivity, capacity or frequency,” said Ravindran. “We still have more room to grow.”
Many blue-collar workers, especially from South India, prefer to fly SriLankan to the GCC region – the airline flies daily to UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Three SEA destinations favored by Indians – Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand – also are part of its network. SriLankan has three entry points served double daily in China (Beijing, Shanghai and Ganzhou). Jakarta (Indonesia) and Tokyo (Japan) are also part of the network. “We have been flying to Melbourne for two years with excellent load factor and plans are afoot to launch service to Sydney. With two cities, we hope to attract more leisure travellers from India,” informed Ravindran. This year, SriLankan will commence flights to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
As part of cost rationalization, the airline which once flew to many points in Europe, today just serves London with daily flights. “Europe is a very low yield market and seasonal too. So we have been very cautious about expanding in that region. However, the management is considering Paris though no decision has been made yet,” commented Ravindran.
Sri Lanka does not have a huge travelling population. Hence the traffic for SriLankan’s expanding network has to primarily come from India’s growing breed of outbound travellers, the largest source market for the island’s tourism industry and airline.
In November 2019, for the first time, SriLankan announced a big bonanza offering 20-30 per cent discount on fares. “It was a moderate success and we plan to run more such schemes to ramp up load during off-peak season,” confirmed Ravindran.
Recently, SriLankan signed a code-share agreement with Gulf Air, adding to its existing list of 18 code-share partners including Air India. It is exploring code-share with Indian LCCs too.
At SATTE 2020, the airline unveiled an offer for those enrolling as members of its frequent flyer program, FlySmiLes. The intent is to grow the membership base considerably. Enhancements are being effected to the internet booking engine to provide a more customer-friendly experience. With the introduction of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, the airline will be able to enhance its offering to the FlySmiLes members and provide greater rewards for loyal customers.
The on-board passenger experience is also being greatly enhanced, including significant changes to the content and user-friendly aspects of the inflight entertainment system; revamping of the Business Class product and service; improved ranges of meals and beverages; and plans are underway to introduce more comfortable seating in the Business Class cabins of the narrow-body fleet including the NEO aircraft serving the Far East.
The company is focussing on the importance and user-friendliness of its online direct sales channel www.srilankan.com and has succeeded in increasing its contribution to overall revenue by up to 15 per cent from the previous 11 per cent.
2019 saw the airline being recognized the world over for its customer centricity as well as marketing excellence with multiple awards – ITB Berlin 2019 (three coveted awards at the Golden City Gate Awards); PATA Awards 2019 (one award); “Asia’s Leading Airline to the Indian Ocean’ title for the third consecutive year and ‘World’s Leading Airline to the Indian Ocean’ for the fourth consecutive year, at the esteemed World Travel Awards, Asia and Oceania ceremonies.
“Vigorous commitment to service quality and efficiency has resulted in SriLankan being named the ‘World’s Most Punctual Airline’ twice during the last 12 months,” concluded Ravindran.