The new normals in a world where Covid-19 unfortunately is becoming a part of our life will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly the way we live our life.
The tourism and hospitality industry is one of the worst-hit sectors because of the pandemic. Businesses in the sector have bled for more than four months now and the way forward also doesn’t look so rosy as leisure travel will be reduced to absolutely nothing.
In this supremely challenging business environment and a cloud of complete uncertainty, the road ahead seems to be very foggy. And to demystify the uncertainties of this important sector we spoke to William Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo to understand their post-lockdown comeback strategies and the way forward.
How are you coping with the impact of Covid-19 on your Indigo Airlines? How effectively have you used the lockdown period?
According to IATA, the airline industry globally is expected to report losses to the tune of $ 84.3 billion during calendar year 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic. Airlines in Asia-Pacific countries, including India, will post losses of $29 billion in 2020, making it the worst region for aviation.
We have shifted our focus from profitability and growth to managing cash and liquidity. We want to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. We are paying particular attention to our product, our costs, our brand and our employee culture. Specifically, we will be paying a great deal of emphasis on the new norms of flying, reducing our unit costs even further, making our fleet more efficient, ensuring our capacity is right sized to the market, and experimenting with new network and revenue models.
We clearly have to rise up to this challenge to meet the new customer expectations in this changed environment. Against this we have the following formidable strengths including a healthy balance sheet, an energised workforce that is highly committed to IndiGo and its future, a very efficient fleet, strong market position in India and in neighbouring countries and a robust cost position. We are one of the lowest cost producers not just in India but around the world. Therefore, we are highly confident that we will meet our objective of emerging stronger from this crisis than we were when we entered into it.
Talking about the lockdown period, our CarGo flights performed extremely well during the lockdown. We utilized our passenger planes in freighter mode to carry CarGo including essential supplies like medicines, equipment, and relief samples from one part of country to another. Hence, we have learned valuable lessons about the demand and scope for CarGoduring this lockdown and these lessons will serve us well for augmenting our CarGo operations in the months ahead which will help us in revenue generation in addition to other commercial flights. In fact, we have successfully operated close to 500 international flights in almost 1.5 months from June to mid-July, including passenger charters and repatriation flights under Vande Bharat mission.
The quest for a solution to a particular crisis helps invent new business opportunities and sometimes leads to a revision of existing business models … What sort of innovation has or will the Covid-19 pandemic bring to your brand/industry/category?
Yes, the aviation industry has come up with many innovations and opportunities in the battle of COVID-19. All airports and airlines are taking every possible step to make sure that travel practices remain COVID-19 safe and secure for the passengers.
Some of the key safety measures include – ensuring that social distancing is maintained at all points – airport entry, baggage drop counters, security checks, boarding gates, coaches, ramp and baggage claim. All common surfaces such as the baggage drop counters, boarding gates, coaches, ramps, wheelchairs, crew vehicles and of course, the aircraft itself, are being thoroughly disinfected using approved cleaning agents. The tray tables, armrests, overhead nozzles, lavatories and galleys are receiving special attention, given the frequency of contact. We are disinfecting the aircraft before every flight.
In addition, we are also following a periodic fumigation of the aircraft. Before entering the airport or before boarding the aircraft, the body temperature of every passenger is being checked using non-contact thermal screening devices. Customers are being provided with electronic receipt (SMS) of the checked-in baggage. We are handing over a safety kit to all passengers at the boarding gate to make sure they are covered. Our ground staff and crew members (cockpit and cabin) are wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) appropriate for their roles. We have stopped our inflight meal services to minimize passenger contact with the crew, though we will be serving water on demand.
Beyond the above mandatory measures, we are also encouraging customers to follow a few additional steps to ensure own safety and the safety of others including – advance web check-in on our website or app, fill in an online health declaration before being issued the online boarding pass, print the boarding pass and baggage tag, affix the baggage tag firmly on the luggage, carry only a small hand bag/ laptop bag that fits under the seat in front, pre-book add-on services like excess baggage and wheelchair assistance, reach the airport 2 hours prior to the flight, wear mask & gloves and keep a sanitizer handy, scan their boarding pass at the boarding gate and practice social distancing at all times. Besides these, we are encouraging customers to use airport rest rooms and have food/water at the airports as much as possible to minimize movement inside the aircraft. Most importantly, download the AarogyaSetu App to be able to fly hassle-free.
It has been analysed that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from one passenger to another passenger on board is very low, making flying the safest way to travel. The possible reasons for this would be that the customers sit facing forward and not toward each other, once seated add to the onboard protection. As an added protection against possible in-flight transmission, IATA also recommends the use of face coverings by travellers in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained, including in flight. We have been providing face shields as part of their safety kit to every passenger to ensure safe and hassle-free flying experience on a lean clean flying machine.
The pandemic has heightened the emotional need for social distancing during air travel, even though the risk of transmission onboard is extremely low with the sitting arrangement (facing forward), seat backs as a barrier, use of HEPA filters, the direction of the air flow (from ceiling to floor), and the limited movement onboard aircraft. To address this need, we launched 6E double seat bookings, which allows customers to book two seats for a single passenger. Customers will be able to opt for 6E double seat only at the time of booking creation on IndiGo’s website, which will be available for both passengers as well as the travel agents. The charges for extra seat will be effectively up to 25% lower than the original booking cost.
What will be your communication strategy post the opening of the lockdown? What will be the objective of the communication/marketing strategy?
In the present situation, safety and hygiene will be the top-notch priority whenever people are travelling. It is important that travellers retain their trust in air travel, which will not only strengthen passenger traffic over time but also promote trade and tourism through mobility. We have been actively integrating safety measures across narratives, to regain and eventually sustain customer confidence. We kickstarted started our Lean, Clean Flying Machine campaign after the lockdown, to educate passengers about the steps taken for their safety with contactless travel and ensuring social distancing at all times. The programme has been instrumental in promoting a COVID-safe and hygienic travel experience onboardIndiGo.
Along with this, we have also launched ‘Tough Cookie’ campaign on the occasion of National Doctor’s Day to express gratitude towards the tireless commitment and service being given by the medical fraternity to the nation and humanity. As part of the campaign, IndiGo is providing up to 25% Tough Cookie discount on the airfares to the nurses and doctors who have serviced in these challenging times. As part of the initiative, IndiGo is tracking the Tough Cookie journey to make it special every step of the way, starting from a complementary cookie tin at check-in, welcome announcement at the boarding gate, special Tough Cookie sticker on the PPE and in-flight announcement giving them a warm welcome on-board.
How did you keep the morale of the employees during this lockdown period? On a personal note, what kept you positive?
We launched a series of activities tailored according to employees’ profile to keep them engaged during the lock-down period. We introduced engagement activities into four broad areas including leadership connect, emotional well-being, physical well-being and contests.
Leadership connect: We released one-minute video by our leaders on how they were dealing with the lockdown, maintaining their mental and physical health, and focussing on the positives that they saw in the pandemic situation.
Emotional well-being: We initiated a programme called iCare which provided online/telephonic support to the employees to deal with any questions on their mind or any apprehension they might have.
Physical well-being: We tied up with our service providers who facilitated virtual workout training sessions for their employees. These trainers conducted classes and live stream them to IndiGo employees via Webex.
Team engagement: We organized many fun and engaging contests like #MissingThe6ELife wherein the employees were invited to share their throwback photos of their workplace with a note on what they were missing the most. We also organized #6EPowerofPositivity in which we invited our employees to send in samples of their best creative expression—poems/quotes/paintings/doodles, and so on – based on how they perceived the current situation positively, along with a note on what their creation meant.
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring the business back on track or at least get it in the right direction and also create demand for yourself?
As mentioned above, we are following all the safety measures and keeping our employees motivated and engaged to sail through these difficult times. We believe that it may take anywhere between 18 -24 months to recover from the current situation to come back to the pre-covid levels of travel demand.