EVA Air’s pres­i­dent Austin Cheng on the se­ri­ous business of bring­ing com­fort, vi­sion – and fun – to the air travel ex­pe­ri­ence

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE -

One on One with EVA Air pres­i­dent Austin Cheng. Ho­tel sat­is­fac­tion sets a record. Berlin, Frankfurt wel­come new meet­ing venues. Delta Stu­dio takes to the air. To­bacco may power sus­tain­able jet fuel. On­line cor­po­rate book­ings trend mo­bile. London Con­rad West­min­ster pre­mieres. Air In­dia joins Star. Jin Jiang ho­tel opens in Yangzhou. Hil­ton en­ables mo­bile room se­lec­tion. Con­cur comes to Ama­zon App­store. Park­ing ro­bot Ray bows at Düs­sel­dorf.

One of EVA Air’s en­dur­ing images is the Hello Kitty jet. That seems rather light­hearted for an in­dus­try like avi­a­tion.

CHENG: Peo­ple ask me quite of­ten,“Why Hello Kitty?”You know, the liv­ery of the air­craft, this is noth­ing new. But our idea is, it’s not just a liv­ery. We try to cre­ate a whole jour­ney, a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. We sim­ply think that travel should be fun. So we tried to find a fun character. Hello Kitty, she’s just charm­ing, and so ex­pand­able in terms of the mar­ket­ing. And peo­ple, they just love it.

BT: Given her pop­u­lar­ity, where do you see Hello Kitty fit­ting into the EVA Air mar­ket­ing story?

CHENG: One jour­nal­ist asked me,“Would you charge the pas­sen­gers more when they’re sit­ting on your Hello Kitty jet?”I said,“No, no, no, that’s not the point. The point is, we pro­vide a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, a fun ex­pe­ri­ence for our pas­sen­gers.”

BT: Any air­line that puts Hello Kitty on the tail has to think of it­self a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. What do you be­lieve makes EVA Air dif­fer­ent?

CHENG: When we es­tab­lished this new air­line, Dr.Y.F. Chang, the founder of Ever­green Group, in­sisted on in­tro­duc­ing a new prod­uct. We call it Elite Class which is be­tween business class and econ­omy class. At the time I re­mem­ber very clearly, se­nior in­dus­try play­ers said,“No, it won’t work. The pre­mium pas­sen­ger will never down­grade, and for econ­omy pas­sen­gers, they will never pay more.”But I tell you, to­day of the top 10 car­ri­ers, eight of them are equipped with this kind of pre­mium econ­omy. So the mar­ket will tell you the truth.

BT: It sounds like EVA is an air­line that’s look­ing to bring new ideas to the in­dus­try.

CHENG: In­no­va­tion is al­ways part of our character, I would say. Team­work, in­no­va­tion, safety and ser­vice – and chal­lenge. We want to be the best ser­vice provider air­line. And the goal is still there, we’re still pur­su­ing the goal that we set up in the very be­gin­ning.

BT: How is that phi­los­o­phy re­flected in your re­cent mem­ber­ship in the Star Al­liance?

CHENG: At EVA, the idea is sim­ple; we want to pro­vide full ser­vice for our pas­sen­gers. That’s why we joined Star Al­liance. We need the chan­nel and the net­work so our pas­sen­gers can eas­ily travel all over the world. We are not a big air­line, so we can­not fly to ev­ery sin­gle des­ti­na­tion. So we have to con­nect with our Al­liance part­ners.

BT: What in­no­va­tions are we see­ing in your fleet?

CHENG: We just took de­liv­ery of three of our sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Boe­ing 777300ERs, with the lat­est ver­sion of our in­flight en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem from Pana­sonic, and of course it will be equipped with Sky WiFi. And we’ve changed our cabin dé­cor, and will pro­vide dif­fer­ent fea­tures in the cabin for our pas­sen­gers.

BT: What will the ad­di­tion of th­ese air­craft mean for your trans-Pa­cific routes?

CHENG: Trans-Pa­cific is quite im­por­tant for EVA. Nowa­days we have 55 flights weekly, and with th­ese new air­craft, we can af­ford to in­crease fre­quen­cies to North Amer­ica. New des­ti­na­tions might be Hous­ton, and the sec­ond one would be Chicago. It all de­pends on our air­craft de­liv­ery.

BT: What do you see down the road for the in­dus­try and for EVA Air?

CHENG: I would say the in­dus­try is a lot of fun, but also a lot of chal­lenge. We have to stay ag­gres­sive. We can­not with­draw; oth­er­wise we’ll just be out of the pic­ture.You’re go­ing to be aban­doned by your pas­sen­ger. Ser­vice and safety is al­ways our fo­cus. We try to po­si­tion our­selves to ac­com­mo­date high-end pas­sen­gers, es­pe­cially the business trav­eler. They love our prod­uct so we are en­cour­aged to pro­vide even bet­ter ser­vice. That is how we do this. BT

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