CASE IN POINT // Air Mauritius
By: Samantha Barnes
Airline Recieves International Recognition
Carla da Silva does not shy away from a challenge. When she joined Air Mauritius as the regional manager for Southern Africa and Latin America in 2010 she recognised that there were opportunities to improve the way that the airline generated business. Carla also recognised that she would need to inspire her team if she was to bring about the change that she knew was achievable in her own mind.
But with all well thought out plans Carla knew that she had to start somewhere and make goals clear and achievable. The only way to get bums on seats was to get people on board (if you will excuse the pun). In all business success stories the first step starts with examining the balance sheet and the assets that you have at your disposal.
In 2010 Air Mauritius was a R114 million business. Today, a mere five years later, Carla heads up a R400 million operation: achieving these results in an industry as competitive as aviation takes some doing. Not only has Air Mauritius attained and exceeded its sales targets; it has grown and expanded revenue in Africa and Latin America, attracting favourable attention from what can only be an expanding passenger base.
Da Silva’s has set clear targets for the airline to achieve this year. Diversifying the ways in which Air Mauritius appeals to its market is reaping rewards for the airline in terms of growing passenger numbers. ”Through e-commerce we are able to offer flights and accommodation in one booking online that is far more cost effective for the traveller,” explains Carla.
Mauritius is not Just for Honeymooners
Typically we think of Mauritius as a destination for honeymooners, romantic getaways and laid back family holidays. All this would be true. Mauritius also appeals to business traveller, for several good reasons. “Many South African companies are establishing offices in Mauritius,” explains Carla. “Mauritius is recognised for its tax benefits as well as for the ease of doing business there.”
What is the first thing you want to do before embarking on the next leg of your flight home or to another destination? The three ‘r’s’ in this case (give or take a few exceptions) are rest, relaxation and reading. The newly upgraded (and oh so posh) Amedee Maingard Lounge in Mauritius is by invitation only. You may think ‘that rules me out as my company only purchases economy class tickets.’ But here is the thing….
If one has purchased an economy class ticket and wish to upgrade to business class on departure, you may at only R1850 enjoying a business class seat, service and business class lounges. Plainly put, this means that you actually get some well-deserved shut eye, instead of your knees playing ‘meet and greet’ with the passenger in the seat in front of you. And I am talking about enjoying a proper sleep, not the catnapping kind when you wake up in a confused fog. Imagine waking up refreshed!
If you think all this sounds pretty good, it gets better. While waiting to embark your flight as a member of Travel Smart Program you have access to a business lounge. “We have introduced French champagne and shower facilities for passengers who are going beyond Mauritius, and a play area for children,” says Carla.
Travel Smart was an idea proposed by Carla. “When I started with the airline in 2010, the low season was problematic. We were not filling seats during this period. The Travel Smart programme introduced cost effective value propositions. A family travelling with two children under 12 years will get free air fare for their two children,” says Carla.
The entire family and their travel experience has been well thought out by Air Mauritius. “A mom and her baby are eligible to an extra luggage allowance. Dad is also eligible for an extra luggage allowance, understanding that he may want to take his golf bag on holiday. A bride receives a 20% discount on her airfare.”
The Travel Smart programme has generated substantial business for Air Mauritius, which confirms that passengers appreciate the perks and convenience that they are getting with travelling with the airline. “The Travel Smart programme has created a smooth growth of business across the years instead of having dips during the low season,” explains Carla. Such has been the success of Travel Smart that a new programme, Extravaganza, is being introduced.
Linking with Key Destinations
“Air Mauritius is acting as a hub to schedules serving the developing and emerging markets,” confirms Carla. South Africa is geographically well located to serve this growing market. “We are only 7 hours from Australia and only 6 hours to all four parts of India,” says Carla. “Air Mauritius is also linking up with schedules to China, Singapore, Europe and Africa. We serve Africa from Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Latin American travellers love the bush and the beach and once you have created the relationship they will return.”
ward for Excellence
Earlier this year Air Mauritius achieved a Four Star Sky Trax Rating. This recognises Air Mauritius as a global entity in terms of service and product. A lot of enhancements and improvements have been made across the operation.
“This award reassures the customer that our number one priority is safety,” explains Carla.
In addition to safety, the six new aircraft will offer good looks and comfort. Carla speaks of the airline’s new Air Bus 350 900 with the same measure of pride as a mother showing off her baby. The Airbus uses advanced materials.
Environmental impact is also a key consideration. It is heartening to learn that there is a 25% cost savings reduction in fuel burn as well a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Air Mauritius is taking their commitment towards greening the planet one step further. “We plant one tree for every takeoff,” explains Carla.
Let’s Meet in Mauritius
Mauritius is a popular destination for the MICE market. For those unfamiliar with the term this refers to ‘meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions.’ It usually refers to large groups of people being brought together for a conference or event. It includes incentive tourism, where an employee is rewarded by an organisation for targets met or exceeded, or a job well done. Incentive tourism is usually conducted for entertainment rather than for professional or educational purposes.
Air Mauritius has two dedicated consultants to the MICE market, with clients including big names in the IT and financial sectors and corporates like SA Breweries and Coca-Cola. “Groups can vary between 20 and 500 people,” says Carla. ”The upgrades to our fleet include the Airbus 340 which can accommodate 300 passengers.
“The Mauritian conference market has the facilities to meet requirements at all levels of the market, which is reassuring. Mauritius also appeals to the MICE market because it is conveniently situated from South Africa, being only 4 hours from Johannesburg, 3 hours from Durban, and 5 hours from Cape Town. Plus you don’t need visas and there is no malaria,” explains Carla.
Creating a New Customer Experience
Air Mauritius is gaining ground over the competition for another reason; its flexibility towards its passengers and the airline’s fresh approach to adding to the overall customer experience. “As a small airline we offer more flexibility and provide for breakaways from a group booking. So if a couple wanted to extend their stay after a conference in Mauritius, we could arrange this. We even have a special dedicated terminal for this. We also brand headrests,” says Carla.
Air Mauritius offers a unique opportunity for passengers to upgrade their booking. “They bid online to upgrade their ticket. Sometimes they can be very lucky with the deal they get,” notes Carla.
We Saw It On Facebook
Social media is a marketing tool highly favoured by the airline. “I am definitely an avid Facebook fan,” says Carla. “It is a powerful tool for marketing and has turned the world into a global village. It has a split second impact in reaching people, and is especially useful when we are having specials. We are contacted within hours by so many fans! The drawback is that people are not communicating anymore. If you travel on a train in Europe, people are all on their phones with their headsets. It is frightening, but we also have to be a part of this technology.”
Carla loves the way in which people who have travelled with Air Mauritius are sharing their travel stories of their travel experiences. “This has reach!” says Carla. “I am inspired by this as are people viewing this on Facebook. Human beings are more inspired by pictures. So looking at photos connects with them by reaching their emotions.”
The Numbers Tell a Story
The new airport terminal at Mauritius caters for 4,5 million passengers annually. Air Mauritius as a government owned airline is playing an important part in stimulating the island’s economy. Carla and her Southern Africa team are playing a big part in attracting these passenger numbers. “It is rewarding to know that we are impacting on the Mauritian economy,” says Carla.
Her more than 18 years in the aviation industry have brought Carla recognition as a respected leader within the sector. Carla is the Chairperson of BARSA, Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa and a Board Director of Aviation Coordination Services and a keynote speaker at many conferences; sharing her expertise. She is also a brand ambassador for Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government. But it is her will to make her mark on the world that is making the most difference.