Since his appointment in April at the helm of Garuda Indonesia, former banking executive Pahala Mansury found listening to customers a business imperative. “People are very personal about their flying experience. Some of the best advice on how you are going to provide the right level of service and experience actually comes from customers,” he says.
Besides customers, the Garuda Indonesia team is an exhaustible source of insight for Pahala, who built his career in the consulting and finance industries. “Service is about people, because, at the end of the day, service is delivered by the people. It is therefore important to continuously involve our people in getting feedback,” he says. “I’ve been in the airline business for at least six months now, and I cannot thank enough the Board of Directors and employees of Garuda Indonesia—even the previous CEOs—for their important feedback,” notes Pahala.
He adds that incorporating the insights of passengers and team members into enhancing Garuda Indonesia’s services was critical given that the airline is expanding its service in the international market. “We need to be able to compete with other airlines in the region and globally to give the right level of service,” he says. He further says that Indonesians themselves are now travelling more often, as reflected by the uptick in outbound passengers to international routes, especially European cities such as London and Amsterdam. “Our business and first-class sections on international flights are getting filled up better in terms of load factor,” he says.
The greater spending in travel among Indonesians runs parallel to global trends whereby people now prefer spending their money on experiences. “The global phenomenon is that when people have reached a certain level of wealth, particularly in the upper-income level, they are going to shift their spending to more travelling,” he says. Pahala adds that the shift is not limited to younger travellers. The spending patterns of those above 40 years old have changed as well. He names social media as a factor behind this shift. Social media has become a medium through which travellers could “flaunt” their adventures, hence stirring others to follow suit.
“A lot of the change is being driven by social media. Social media allows travelling experiences to be ‘owned’,” he says. He points out that the greater propensity to travel would benefit Garuda Indonesia, whose revenue streams from international and domestic flights are in balance. “However, Indonesians are travelling abroad more so I think the outbound market will grow rapidly,” he says, adding that both business- and first-class seats are better filled as well.
As for domestic travel, far-flung destinations that ooze adventure are a hit among millennials. “When we first flew to Labuan Bajo, we did not foresee that destination being as successful as it is now,” he says, adding that these millennials are visiting far off places enticed by posts they see on social media.
“They want to experience bolder destinations because they want to tell people that they have gone to places that their friends or family might have not experienced,” he notes.
Increasing visits to new domestic destinations call for improvements in local infrastructure, which has started to take place as entrepreneurs establish world-class hotels and similar hospitality facilities. “It goes both ways. When we fly to these destinations, airlines want to make sure that these places have the right kind of infrastructure,” says Pahala.