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National carrier to stress 'Thainess', says new president
Publication Date : 26-11-2012
Thai Airways International's new president Sorajak Kasemsuvan believes weaving "Thainess" into passenger-related areas can set the legacy airline apart from others and put it on the path to profitability.
"I don't care what THAI's ranking will be. During my term, I want it to be one of the most popular airlines, to be the airline that represents Thailand and |the airline that is the best ambassador for Thailand," he said during an interview with Nation chairman Suthichai Yoon last week.
Some cabin crew are now trained to provide the "Thai smile", but Thainess could also be reflected through menus, uniforms and services. Many improvements are on the drawing board.
Taking office in September, he embraced the huge challenge to increase THAI's profitability amid factors squeezing global airlines' profit margins. He recalled the first meeting with all aviation-related state enterprises, when every one of them expected high profits except the national carrier.
The International Air Transport Association forecasts global airline profits in 2012 at US$4.1 billion (about 126 billion baht), less than half of $8.4 billion last year.
In THAI's forecast last month, margins were likely to be 0.6 per cent this year, before rising to 1.1 per cent next year. With 17 new aircraft to be delivered next year, THAI is expected to raise revenue to over 220 billion baht and earn 5-6 billion baht, against a net loss of 10 billion baht in 2011 and net profit of 15 billion baht in 2010.
Amid fierce competition, THAI has been cashing in on "Thainess" to "steal market share" from other airlines. He intends to strengthen the image.
Passengers must feel the quality when boarding a THAI plane. The ambience, greeting, food and services must be of authentic quality.
Inspired by the popularity of Thai food and comments that food served on board tastes different from that in restaurants, the president plans a big change to the menus, particularly for first class.
A customer food board will be set up with big names like chef McDang (ML Sirichalerm Svasti), socialite Rapeepan Luangaramrat (Khun Reed), actor Chakrit Yamnam, who hosts a famous cooking show, and some winning chefs from the "Iron Chef Thailand" show.
They will be invited to give opinions to the five master chefs of THAI, including four foreigners. The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok will be courted to come up a monthly signature dish - main dish or sweets.
"Everybody knows that Thailand is the best in the world when it comes to food. Bringing famous Thais into the scene will help. This could create the best Thai restaurant in the sky," he said.
Uniforms will be restyled, using unique local fabrics. A team would be dispatched to find suitable and durable fabrics "with a story to tell" - like where they are made, how, and what benefits the local weavers reap from supplying the fabrics to THAI. Then, internationally-acclaimed Thai designer Thakoon Panichgul would be contracted to turn the fabrics into charming uniforms.
Thainess can also echo the nature of society, where every-one is related. THAI's service can be built on this. All passengers will be "treated like our relatives regardless of their nationalities".
After spotting a shower in Emirates' first class cabin plus a maid who always keeps it clean during an observation flight, Sorajak now plans to introduce Thai traditional massage to |first-class passengers on Airbus A380 flights to main destina-tions like Paris, Frankfurt and London.
The Commerce Ministry will be approached to award "Thai Select" certificates for the top 10 dishes, while some Otop products will be shown on board and others in the shopping catalogue. Thailand Post would be asked to handle deliveries.
THAI Shops, which may feature quality corporate premiums, will be opened at all major airports in Thailand, while Puff & Pie, the bakery shop, could be rebranded into THAI restaurants.
"They could generate extra income, though small, but they would strengthen Thailand's image," he said.
All the work is plotted, though Sorajak has had numerous meetings to attend, at least two to three per day. He is working on ways to cut down on committees and meetings. He prefers to call executives for discussion in his office, rather than join a big meeting that could end up with no resolution even after four hours.
He does not see the need for wholesale changes in routing plans. More destinations in |Japan would be introduced and frequencies increased, as Japanese, Korean and Chinese operations are all above target. THAI Smile, the budget airline, would spread its wings to more Asean destinations and to southern China.
Daily flights to Los Angeles would be revived and probably also flights to New York City in the hope that increased penetration of the US would bring in more dollar income. Now, most revenue is in the euro and yen, while fuel bills are in dollars. THAI is also eyeing Eastern Europe, where a nouveau rich class is emerging despite the crisis in the eurozone.
Partnerships in the tourism industry, which generates 1.48 trillion baht of annual revenue, are being sought. The flight network could be adjusted according to data from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, while Bangkok Airways could be drawn in to join some promotions.
"Rankings are insignificant. A higher ranking is welcomed, but it's not the priority," he added.