Saminda Perera, who has spearheaded SriLankan Airlines’ marketing and corporate communications strategy since June 2015, says that the airline’s recent success at World Travel Awards makes him optimistic about the future. Kaye Holland reports for Breaking Travel News.
Breaking Travel News: SriLankan Airlines has just been recognised as Asia’s Leading Airline to the Indian Ocean and Asia’s Leading Cultural Airline at World Travel Awards Asia & Australasia Gala Ceremony.
How important is it to be honoured in this way?
Saminda Perera: We are extremely honoured and pleased to receive these two titles at World Travel Awards 2017.
An award is certainly a source of motivation and proof that we are doing the right thing.
Particularly at time when SriLankan Airlines’ focus is Asia - where we have been expanding our operations consistently - so winning these awards is a validation of our stature and the impact of our presence in the region.
BTN: To what do you attribute your success? What separates SriLankan Airlines from its competitors?
SP: Our success is about the courage to adopt novelties in our service and preserving what we are originally known for - the traditional warmth and hospitality of Sri Lankans and Sri Lanka, the country.
For instance, we may operate modern, state-of-the art aircraft equipped with the latest cabin features and connectivity options, but it is our service - which stems from the values that we uphold as a nation - that makes us stand out from the rest.
This is complemented by our convenient and seamless connectivity that is offered across Asia Pacific, the Indian sub-continent, Middle East, Europe, and of course from October onwards, our much anticipated operations to Melbourne.
BTN: Are you optimistic about 2017 and the next few years for SriLankan Airlines?
SP: Having introduced three more vibrant cities to our expansive connectivity in India - which has made us the foreign carrier that operates to/out of the most number of Indian cities - and our anticipated daily direct services between Colombo and Melbourne, 2017 has certainly been an exciting year for us.
As we explore every potential to expand our presence in the regions in which we have already established our presence, the next few years will certainly see us enhancing connectivity.
BTN: How important is the airline to the local economy?
SP: The airline, being the national carrier, is not only expected to be a driving force in the country’s economy, but also a prime vehicle that takes Sri Lanka to the world.
Our role goes beyond transporting passengers from one point to another.
We have been in the forefront of promoting Sri Lanka and inspiring travellers to explore the country.
We have also been actively taking part in the worldwide tourism promotions activations implemented by the country’s tourism institutions.
BTN: What do you see as the main challenges or trends regionally in the airline industry?
SP: We see many regional airlines shifting their focus to tier-two cities, as opposed to traditional hubs as we observe a consistent growth of travel movements with the former. This inevitably results in enhanced connectivity.
One must not forget that the checklists of travellers has evolved thanks to technology. They are better informed, more analytical and, for them, brand loyalty is a secondary factor.
Our challenge is to capture and retain these discerning travellers, for which we need to be seen and heard through the clutter.
BTN: Where would you like to see SriLankan Airlines in ten-15 years’ time?
SP: I would certainly like to see SriLankan on the top most slot in Asia and among the top ten in the world.
BTN: Tell us a little bit about why you joined SriLankan Airlines?
SP: Having studied and worked out of Sri Lanka, my initial inspiration was the pride of working for the national carrier.
As I went along, it was the sense of achievement and self-satisfaction brought through accomplished tasks.
To the outside world, an airline employee is someone who has the privilege to travel a lot.
However when you become part of the fraternity you realise that what matters most is the power that you have, to make a difference in someone’s life by creating the perfect journey.
Whether you’re a pilot, a cabin crew member or an IT systems personnel, to inspire someone to travel and to broaden their horizons is one of the most self-fulfilling tasks.
BTN: What are the main lessons you’ve learned during your time as general manager, marketing, at SriLankan Airlines?
SP: I am of the opinion that social, digital and people-centric media are taking precedence over conventional mainstream methods of advertising and publicity.
Hence, to be on top of the game, there is no replacement for a comprehensive digital/social media strategy in your action plans.
Secondly: doing your optimum with the available resources can have extremely satisfying results.
There is no such thing called “enough resources.”
If you wait till you can tick off every item in your list, you will never be able to undertake any project.
Availability of resources can assure perfection only to an extent.
The rest is about taking risks, shattering the mould, and believing in your team.
Lastly, I am a firm believer that having the right people in the right places can always make the right difference.
BTN: If there is one thing you could change about the industry tomorrow, what would it be and why?
SP: If I could change one thing about the industry, it would be its impact on environment.
Not only those in the field of aviation, but also every citizen of the world has a responsibility to preserve nature for future generations.
As a flag-carrier of a country that relies on tourism centred mainly around nature, SriLankan Airlines does steer many environment sustainability initiatives - some of which involve the engagement of passengers.
I would love to see the industry paying more attention to mitigating or even erasing their carbon footprint and use their voice to drive the message across their loyal customers to play their part in saving environment.
Fluent in both English and French, Saminda Perera has more than 17 years experience in the aviation industry under his belt.
Perera joined SriLankan as a commercial executive during the Emirates era, and went on to hold many of the airlines’ prominent positions including director, crisis communications, manager, corporate events & promotions, acting head of corporate communications, commercial manager, France, regional manager- Sri Lanka & Maldives, general manager, worldwide sales and general manager corporate communications of SriLankan Airlines.
In addition, he has held the positions of senior manager, marketing communications of Oman Air and consultant & evaluator of UNESCO in France.