Bullish on the Indian market, Malaysia Airlines will continue to focus on expanding its network, resuming services that have been put on hold due to the pandemic, staying relevant to the Indian market by being attentive to customer preference, introducing new innovations and staying top of mind among consumers with engaging campaigns whilst also investing into future through sustainable initiatives and ESG.
In conversation with ETTravelWorld, Ahmad Luqman Mohd Azmi, Chief Executive Officer of Airlines, Malaysia Aviation Group said that India remains an important market for them, and Malaysia Airline have rapidly expanded its network and increased connectivity from India to Malaysia from 52 weekly flights to 55 weekly flights from April 2023.
He further added that the carrier will gradually add new routes or increase frequencies in order to cater to the travel demand, especially during peak periods as they looking at increasing the flight frequency of up to 60x weekly flights to India by the end of 2023. Here are excerpts from the interview:
ETTravelWorld (ETTW): How has been Malaysia Airlines’ performance post reopening of the international borders. Has there been a recovery in travel bookings?
Ahmad Luqman Mohd Azmi (ALMA): The larger consumer sentiment for travel is positive, although the aviation industry continues to face headwinds in the aftermath of Covid. The travel demand is back, both on the domestic and international front, and these are encouraging signs for the industry.
Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a growing desire among consumers to travel again. While the aviation industry is still grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic and may face ongoing challenges, there are positive indications that travel demand is on the rise, both domestically and internationally. These developments could help to revive the industry and offer new opportunities for growth and expansion.
In the case of Malaysia Airlines, our network recovery continues to be led by the domestic market, UK, ASEAN, and South Asia. Since the relaxation of travel restrictions, Malaysia Airlines’ passenger traffic is up 85 per cent year to date compared to pre-COVID levels, with most of the routes we operate recording a steady increase in load factor performance and strong forward booking. This is especially prominent during the festive season, where domestic Malaysian destinations (particularly Peninsular Malaysia to Sabah/Sarawak) and international destinations such as Bali, Phuket, Bangkok, Jakarta, and long-haul destinations such as London, Australia, and India, recorded a healthy load factor.
Domestically, we have recovered our capacities to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, across all airlines within Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) including Malaysia Airlines, Firefly and MASwings. We have been deploying our fleet and network expansion opportunistically during peak periods to service high demand/capacity sectors and we continue to closely monitor the level of capacity entering the market as all airlines rush to ramp-up operations.
Customer satisfaction is of utmost importance to us, and we will leave no stone unturned to ensure the greatest value for various categories of our customers. As an airline subsidiary under MAG, we are focused on implementing our Long-Term Business Plan 2.0 which charts our course to 2025; to transform MAG from a pure-play aviation business to becoming Asia’s leading travel and aviation services group.
ETTW: Has corporate travel bounced back to pre-Covid levels on the routes that you operate to and from India?
ALMA: For Malaysia Airlines, the corporate business segment continues to grow, with the number of travellers up 5 per cent in Q4 22 compared to Q322. The market segment is still primarily dominated by leisure travellers at 82 per cent.
Moving forward, corporate travel is further expected to grow. According to a recent survey commissioned by American Express, corporate travel is expected to rebound with as much as 77 per cent of Indian businesses expecting a rise in their travel budget in 2023 as compared to 2022.
ETTW: What is your growth strategy and investment plans for the Indian market?
ALMA: For Malaysia Airlines, the corporate business segment continues to grow, with the number of India remains to be an important market for us. Despite 2022 being a challenging year, we remain bullish and steadfast on Malaysia Airlines’ future and long-term goals as we continue to drive growth in every aspect of our business for market relevance, but of course, cautiously optimistic about the operating environments and fluctuating market conditions.
We will continue to focus on expanding our network, resuming services that have been put on hold due to the pandemic, staying relevant to the Indian market by being attentive to customer preference, introducing new innovations and staying top of mind among consumers with engaging campaigns whilst also investing into our future through sustainable initiatives and ESG.
We are looking at returning to pre-pandemic levels at 60x weekly flights to India by the end of 2023.
How many weekly flights are you currently operating to and from India? Is the number expected to increase in the coming months?
ALMA: For Malaysia Airlines, the corporate business segment continues to grow, with the number of Malaysia Airlines has reinstated its scheduled commercial services from India with 52 weekly flights from six major cities, namely New Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi. The number of weekly flights has further increased to 55, with the reinstatement of three new flights from Bangalore beginning April 2023. We are continuously reviewing opportunities in the Indian market and will gradually add new routes, increase frequencies, or upgrade aircraft to meet the increased travel demand.
ETTW: From the standpoint of Malaysia Airlines, what all is there in the pipeline? This could be in terms of new services and partnerships or other expansion plans (in terms of the new routes, airline frequency, etc)
ALMA: For Malaysia Airlines, the corporate business segment continues to grow, with the number of From the perspective of network expansion, we have increased our connectivity from India to Malaysia from 52 weekly flights to 55 weekly flights from April 2023. India remains an important market for us. Therefore, we will gradually add new routes or increase frequencies in order to cater to the travel demand, especially during peak periods, and are looking at increasing the flight frequency of up to 60x weekly flights to India by the end of 2023.
Our recent partnership with Acumen Overseas for air travel management is another initiative in strengthening our customer base across the Indian network. The collaboration will further bolster our presence and enhance services for the Indian market, by leveraging on their experience and capabilities.
To encourage travel, we offer the ‘Bonus Side Trip’ programme where passengers can add an extra leg to their journey and explore cultural gems in Malaysia at minimal costs. As part of the programme, passengers will get a chance to explore one of the seven domestic getaway destinations in Malaysia i.e., Penang, Langkawi, Johor Bahru, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Bharu, Alor Setar, Kuantan.
ETTW: Which are the trends that are expected to dominate the aviation sector for the rest of 2023?
ALMA: In 2022, the recovery of the travel and aviation sector was largely driven by the leisure and visiting friends and relatives (VFR) segments. However, in 2023 we expect business travel to pick up with spontaneous travel as an emerging trend. At the same time, given the positive consumer sentiment towards travel, they may plan ahead of time to secure the best ticket prices. This will ensure that tourism industry players, including airlines, continue to launch campaigns, experiences, and deals that excite and encourage customers to choose their business.
As travellers choose to prioritise their physical and mental wellbeing, there is expected to be an increase in restorative vacations or wellness travel, wherein travellers opt for rejuvenating experiences at serene locations like Bali, Kerala, etc.
Furthermore, there is expected to a rise in ‘set jetting’, a newly coined phenomenon for those who are inspired to visit the exact locations that they see in a film or TV series. Another trend that has gained traction in the aftermath of the pandemic is experiential travel.
ETTW: What is your travel trade strategy for the Indian market in 2023?
ALMA: For Malaysia Airlines, the corporate business segment continues to grow, with the number of Our travel trade partners play a very critical role, and we work in close tandem with them by deploying curated campaigns and product offerings to stimulate and cater to the growing demands in local markets. This mainly includes joint consumer promotions with local travel agents to attract the leisure consumers, roadshows with Tourism Boards, corporate travel programmes through MHBiz Pro and MHBiz Plus, and other fare programs to aid “win-win” propositions for the airline.
Furthermore, as a major partner of the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and Penang Convention & Exhibition Bureau (PCEB), we are continuously working towards promoting Malaysia as Asia’s leading Business Events Hub. This is achieved by building on Malaysia’s diverse and beautiful landscapes, unique blend of culture and heritage, abundance of biodiversity, cuisines, arts, and culture.