The country’s newest airline Vistara has completed nine months flying in Indian skies. Vistara’s CEO Phee Teik Yeoh outlines for Sharmistha Mukherjee the many learnings — a revamped menu, easier check-in, premium economy offering — the airline has integrated into its workings to enhance consumer experience. Edited excerpts :
Vistara has been flying in Indian skies for over eight months…what are your learnings from the market here?
We have managed to create an organisation which is constantly learning to improve our product, services and delivery. Before we launched operations, we did an intensive survey which showed us that food and check-in are the two greatest pain points for an air traveler. We launched with a menu which brought in a twist to conventional Indian cuisine. While most of our passengers appreciated it, a small section felt that at certain times of day, for instance breakfast, we should stick to traditional meals.
As far as check-ins are concerned, we look at the variables which can be controlled at our end. We were the first to introduce auto check-in in India — we thought why should a customer have to check-in if he has already shown his intention to travel by purchasing a ticket? We leverage heavily on technology and recently introduced e-boarding passes in Mumbai. When we started flying, we opted to operate out of the new terminal despite a perception that the walk to the aircraft is longer. When we worked out the logistics we saw that it takes only seven minutes for a passenger to walk from the airport gate to the aircraft gate in T2 and because of this even if a passenger arrives late due to traffic conditions in the city, we are able to accommodate him on the flight.
Vistara’s passenger load factor at around 63 per cent is comparatively lesser than those of rivals. Is it a matter of concern for you?
When we first launched the premium economy product, the pick-up was not as expected. It is a fairly new concept in India. Many corporates have either business or economy class travel options. We have been reaching out to them and telling them about our product. It takes the hassle out of travelling and the passenger arrives fresh, productivity is better. We are seeing a steady uptick in demand for premium economy seats. For a small amount ranging between Rs 1000-3000, passengers can avail of a lot more services. Today, there is a sizeable number of corporate travelers who themselves pay the incremental amount to upgrade to the premium economy class.
Are you satisfied with the pace of reforms in the Indian market? The abolition of the 5/20 rule has been hanging fire for some time now…
We came in with our eyes open and with a plan to induct 20 aircraft by 2018. That said, I would like to be optimistic. The fact that the government underlined serious interest in formulating the draft civil aviation policy shows that there is recognition that the current policy needs fast improvement. One of these aspects is the 5/20 rule. Ministry officials know what it would take to transform the aviation scene in the country and they are working hard to put an enabling policy in place.
What kind of synergies is Vistara exploring with Tata and SIA to realise its brand promise?
There are plenty of opportunities for partnership not only to work on costs but also on products and services. We have worked with SIA to funnel traffic and on the Frequent Flyer Programme (FFP). Currently, it’s an interline arrangement and once we get approval for inking a code-share agreement, we can take this much further. We have tie-ups with Tata for ‘Fly and Stay’ arrangement for our passengers. At a marginal extra cost they can fly in, stay in Vivanta, go about their business and fly out of the city. We also have partnerships with Croma, Titan for special offers for our passengers. As we go ahead, there will be many more such products.