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‘Consolidating our India operations is crucial for us’

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With the aviation industry currently undergoing crisis, what is South African Airways future strategic expansion plan in India and overseas?

Sajid Khan

For South African Airways, India is a key market and holds a lot of potential in the overall scheme of our growth strategy. Presently, we are the only airline that offers direct daily flights on the Mumbai-Johannesburg route, and we enjoy healthy load factors as well. This route is extremely vital for us, in strengthening the airline’s international route network.

Consolidating our India operations is crucial for us at the moment, but expanding our India operations is surely something we’re considering in the long run. We recently signed a code share agreement with Jet Airways in India, which will help us expand our reach in the country to a great extent. The code share agreement is the most recent development in our India operations, and we would like to focus on it for now. The agreement will ensure that tourists from across the country can fly hassle-free to South Africa from five other cities apart from Mumbai, which will in turn enhance the viability of South Africa as a tourist destination. In the long term, we would like to expand our India operations further so as to provide greater accessibility to our customers, perhaps two-three years from now.

How is the airline working closely with the travel agents in India?

As an international airline, travel partners play a huge role in our growth. We work closely with them to devise interesting marketing and promotional strategies in India. They have played an important role in popularising the airline’s new experiences by playing the role of key influencers in recommendations for their respective clients. The recently held TAFI Convention in Durban was a great success. Most of our travel partners for the Convention travelled aboard South African Airways and we received feedback about the product.

Which are the new markets that the airline is looking at tapping? If so, by when and what would be the frequency of services?

The entire African market is of importance to South African Airways. We provide accessibility to the rest of Africa, connecting the world to Africa. South Africa is the primary market for us, since the airline is the national carrier. In terms of new markets, the code share agreement provides us access to the Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram markets. It is a huge development for the airline and we’re looking to fully capitalise on it. The airline is definitely interested in tapping other cities, starting with the top Indian metros. The code share agreement is a step in this direction.

Could you elaborate on the recent refurbishment work of the air craft done so as to serve passengers better?

On our India operations itself, we have worked towards ensuring that customers are exposed to a world class hospitality and travel experience that South African Airways is renowned for. It is this objective that also influenced our decision to increase flights on the Mumbai-Johannesburg route.

South African Airways provides a flying experience that is not only world-class, but also customised for Indian travellers. The A330-200 which was introduced on the Mumbai-Johannesburg route in 2011, is fully refurbished, in both the economy and business class. Since the airline is a Star Alliance member, we have access to lounge facilities that belong to our Star Alliance and business partners at airports where there are no South African Airways owned lounges. Our efforts have been consistently recognised by Skytrax, with the airline being certified as a four-star airline for 11 years in a row.

How is the airline leveraging on social media sites to create visibility? Are you investing in mobile applications?

Social media is the way forward, and the airline has acknowledged that. Our target consumer considers the online media as a means to connect with the world, it is important that we make ourselves available on platforms like these, providing customers the personal attention they deserve. We have started our own India centric Facebook page, where we notify them about new offers, initiate contests and announce new developments pertaining to the airline. The South African Airways Business Class Companion Offer was shared on the Facebook page. The page also includes a section that invites the airline’s flyers to share any grievances they may have with the airline.

What is the ratio between business and leisure travellers to South Africa that the airline has seen?

Both MICE and leisure travel are extremely important for us. About 60-70 per cent comes from leisure travel and the remaining from MICE and others. Being a part of BRICS has definitely helped us in enhancing our trade and business relations with India. South Africa is a popular leisure travel destination that Indians have preferred over the years. There are so many experiences that the Indian traveller can take home with them when they visit here; be it adventure sports, pristine beaches, rich culture, luxury products like heli-tours and hot air ballooning. Hence, leisure travel, too, continues to grow at a healthy rate.

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