Just when the market had entered a phase of recovery from an unusually difficult last year, the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 pushed it back. Nonetheless, at Vistara, they are operating most of their pre-COVID-19 domestic network, with 27 destinations including key big-city routes such as Bengaluru, Delhi, and Mumbai. They are now observing a gradual return of traffic as the situation has started to stabilise. In this interview, Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer, Vistara, speaks to TTJ about the airline’s recent developments.
– Prashant Nayak
Vistara has been fortunate to have been able to expand its international network during the pandemic, albeit with limitations and as part of ‘air bubble’ agreements. These operations have not only helped them introduce the airline in markets that were already part of their expansion plans, but also helped them to make inroads into new geographies, paving way for a strong foothold for Vistara in global aviation. During this period, they expanded their network to eight international destinations, including London Heathrow, Dhaka, Dubai, Doha, Frankfurt, Sharjah, Malé, and Tokyo.
“The travel and hospitality industry is clearly going through the toughest phase in its history and the second wave of coronavirus has made it even worse. At Vistara, our focus has been on staying nimble in our approach to be able to adapt to the continuously evolving situation. Suspension of operations for two months during the nationwide lockdown, which was followed by a long period of softened demand and the more recent, second wave of COVID-19 has put immense financial stress on the aviation sector. The volatile situation has also led to overall low confidence in air travel,” says Vinod.
In response, the airline continues to work towards achieving and maintaining a lean cost structure while exploring newer avenues to supplement its earnings. To this end, they have also been leveraging opportunities such as commercial cargo and charter flights, and also introduced other ancillary services, such as Gate-to-Gate and book an extra seat, in their effort to generate additional revenue.
Vinod adds, “We have further increased focus on safety and hygiene throughout the customer journey and are actively communicating about it through our campaign #FlyingFeelSafeAgain. We also introduced #FlyerCODE that seeks to appeal to customers to be Careful, Observant, Distanced, and Empathetic, whenever they fly. We believe these small actions will influence positive behavioural changes in travellers and will make them more considerate and disciplined flyers.”
At Vistara, despite the challenges of the pandemic, they have managed to protect the jobs of all their employees, setting a good example. Furthermore, they have always taken calculated and well-planned steps while ramping up operations. All these aspects add up to make Vistara the employer of choice for many and has given them the confidence that they will be able to scale up when demand is favourable.
“At Vistara, we have taken various measures to ensure a safe flying experience for customers across all critical touchpoints. In line with COVID-19 travel guidelines and social distancing norms, we incorporated a touchless check-in and arrival experience for all passengers while ensuring row-wise staggered boarding and de-boarding of the aircraft. Vistara kept a sharp focus on leveraging biometric technology for a seamless customer experience. Interactions between cabin crew and passengers have also been minimised to ensure maximum safety and social distancing,” assures Vinod.
“We believe that it is the collective responsibility of the airline and its customers to make air travel safer. Vistara’s #FlyingFeelsSafeAgain campaign focused on communicating safe travel including regularly sanitising the aircraft, following all SOPs at every step of the customers’ journey, and deploying touchless processes to reduce physical contact, etc. As a natural next step, we introduced the #FlyerCODE campaign through which we request the customers to be Careful, Observant, Distanced, and Empathetic, whenever they fly,” further shares Vinod.
Recognising the crucial role of vaccination in the battle against COVID-19, the airline took several initiatives and managed to get almost 100 percent of their staff vaccinated with at least the first dose. Vistara was also the first airline in India to operate flights with fully vaccinated cabin crew and pilots. With the authorities focusing on vaccination drives across the country on a war footing they are hopeful that the demand for air travel will return progressively.
Vistara has also been proactive at honing opportunities in the face of adversities while focusing on consistent enhancement of the experience they offer to their customers. “For Club Vistara members, we have digitised many transactions with the objective to reduce manual intervention. Also, since people are unable to travel due to complications around COVID-19, we extended the validity of CV points and tier status for all members. We have also enabled our customers to use a combination of their CV points and cash to make bookings which we have been getting an encouraging response for. We also introduced an innovative feature for CV members which allows them to ‘buy CV points’ whenever required,” concludes Vinod.