‘India contributes a substantial amount of passengers to SriLankan Airlines’
SriLankan Airlines is exploring the feasibility to operate to Indian destinations and connecting points via CMB to provide enhanced travel options to both passengers and charter flights. They are also hopeful about expanding the frequencies in India and provide smoother connections to their new destinations in the European Union and the Far East once the industry back on its feet, says Dimuthu Tennakoon, Head of Worldwide Sales and Distribution at SriLankan Airlines in an exclusive interview with Disha Shah Ghosh.
Q. Besides passenger traffic, how important is the cargo vertical for Sri Lankan Airlines?
A. Being the fastest mode of transport, coupled with high levels of security provided for the cargo, air transportation will always be a vital component in logistics solutions. Today, air cargo continues to play a vital role in flighting the current pandemic in supporting the global health sector and supporting economies by providing active solutions for disrupted supply chains. The key SriLankan cargo markets include Frankfurt, Milan, London in Europe, Chennai and Mumbai in India, Dubai, Doha and Riyadh in the Middle East, the Maldives in the Indian Subcontinent, Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney and Tokyo in the Far East and the latest key addition to the network, Nairobi in Africa.
The cargo handling facilities at Bandaranaike International Airport comprise two terminals maintaining an internationally-certified ground handling operation with the capability to handle all commodities of cargo with a present annual handling capacity of over 270,000 metric tons. Sri Lankan Cargo historically accounted for 10% of the total air traffic revenue. The financial year 20/21 saw the cargo revenues increasing by 63% from FY 19/20 to account for 60% of the total air traffic revenue generated in FY 20/21. The airline further intends to develop dedicated handling facilities with segregated areas for handling general cargo, perishables and courier cargo.
Q. With regards to SriLankan Airlines’ presence in South Asia, how important is India as a source market?
A.Continuing this historic relationship forward, India has been one of Sri Lankan Airline’s prime markets since its inception, and it is today one of the largest international carriers operating in India.
During the pre-Covid period, Sri Lankan Airlines operated 130 flights a week into India, connecting 11 destinations worldwide. Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai were predominant feeder markets to the Asia Pacific and Australian routes. At the same time, all Indian points have contributed to the labour movement in the Middle East and the Far East. Although the global pandemic restricted our operations network wide, the management decided to continue operations into India where possible to keep alive the flame of allegiance and brand promise with our neighbours.
Q. Sri Lanka is a vital destination for business and leisure. Going forward what will be your endeavour for these segments as the flag carrier for the revival of travel sentiment from key source markets?
A.We believe tourism will rebound gradually because the most significant hindering point for cross-border travel is the entry restrictions and health guidelines imposed by countries/states. Once that is lessened or relaxed, there will surely be a good traffic flow, both inbound and outbound. Many international visitors are waiting to visit Sri Lanka. We anticipate a strong surge from the country’s primary source markets such as India, China, UK, Germany, France, Australia and Russia. As the national carrier, we are waiting to welcome our passengers on board, especially the Indian, European, Chinese and Far Eastern travellers.
At the moment, we welcome tourists to visit Sri Lanka and experience the nature, heritage, and genuine Sri Lankan hospitality, with utmost safety being the highest priority. The Ministry of Tourism and the Health Department and the Defense Ministry are working with us and the local hotel industry to formulate safe air travel services and provide the best-in-class service for inbound travellers.
Q. In terms of product enhancement and technology advancement, what are some of the engineering marvels that SriLankan Airlines is investing in?
A.Not limited to engineering, SriLankan is conducting many services and process enhancements during this period. We continued our website improvements, plug-ins, adaptations and services to enhance the web capabilities, devoted more time to configure search engine optimisations, maintained continuous communication, tried new technologies to optimise the internal processes, re-assessed our spending – kept clear and customised communication to passengers rather than mass-market advertising, completed all online refunds on time (as one of the first airlines to do so), to maintain loyalty we created different credit facilities for online purchase (vouchers), revamped the look and feel of the website, created vendor partnerships (Covid insurance), worked on creating customer profiling development for the CRM and invested heavily on knowledge sharing exercises.
In terms of additional safety and hygiene, what are some of the measures undertaken by SriLankan Airlines?
A.The airline has invested in several preventive measures that are going above and beyond the minimum required and truly investing in the health and safety of passengers and staff. In this regard, SriLankan Airlines has been awarded the Platinum status by APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying for our efforts in ensuring the highest standards of cleanliness and sanitization.
The measures introduced by member airlines include safe check-in, enhanced and expanded cleaning of aircraft and customer touchpoints in airports and lounges, physical distancing during the boarding process, and wearing of masks and face coverings at all times. These are in addition to the underlying measures including the use of HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters onboard the aircraft.
Q. In the post-Covid-era, how will SriLankan Airlines augment its sales strategy in India?
A.As mentioned before, India is a critical region in our network and contributes to a substantial amount of passenger tourist. We will leverage on both cargo and passenger flight operations, and will be evaluating the planned network expansions. However, the cargo operation will take centre stage until passenger restrictions subside in most of our key markets. Nevertheless, the services to our industry stakeholders, corporates and loyalty members will continue while all our passenger segments will be kept informed and updated on the travel possibilities and operations. In addition, we are exploring the feasibility to operate to Indian destinations and on connecting points via CMB to provide enhanced travel options to passengers and charter flight options. Once the industry is back on its feet, we hope to look at expanding the frequencies into India and provide smoother connections to our new destinations in the EU and the Far East.
Q. Are new code-share or interline agreements in the offing to expand your geographical reach?
A. The airline is currently partnered with 13 code-share partners of the OneWorld Alliance and 76 interline partners carriers to provide a wide array of convenient travel options connecting 113 destinations in 51 countries. We are currently working with a few carriers in South Africa and the Far East to expand our network which we hope will materialise post-pandemic.