Busi­ness In­ter­view

Sin­ga­pore Air­lines’ new gen­eral man­ager Balagopal Kun­du­vara takes the helm and shares in­sights on shift­ing trends

Philippine Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Sin­ga­pore Air­lines (SIA) new Gen­eral Man­ager Balagopal Kun­du­vara ex­plains new travel trends and fac­ing com­pe­ti­tion

Sin­ga­pore Air­lines (SIA) has been op­er­at­ing in the Philippines for 51 years now, de­liv­er­ing noth­ing short of ex­cel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice. It of­fers a full spec­trum of con­ve­nient and en­joy­able travel ex­pe­ri­ences—only the best—as be­fits Sin­ga­pore’s flag car­rier. 2017 is a special year for SIA as it com­mem­o­rates its 70 years in the air.

To go be­yond an al­ready es­tab­lished rep­u­ta­tion in the Philippines, SIA ap­pointed Balagopal Kun­du­vara, one of its most ac­com­plished ex­ec­u­tives, to helm its op­er­a­tions in the coun­try. “The Philippines presents ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that we would like to re­cip­ro­cate through our best of­fer­ings,” Kun­du­vara, who has been with SIA for 17 years, says.

Kun­du­vara holds a de­gree in me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing from Nanyang Tech Uni­ver­sity in Sin­ga­pore and an MBA from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les (UCLA) and Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Sin­ga­pore, spon­sored by SIA. “As a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, there were a se­lect num­ber of in­dus­tries I wanted to work in but SIA’s brand­ing and pres­ence in Sin­ga­pore clearly stood out to me. It was the first com­pany I worked with, and I haven’t left since,” he shares.

This is Kun­du­vara’s first over­seas post af­ter fill­ing key po­si­tions in SIA’s head­quar­ters in Sin­ga­pore, fore­most among them be­ing the vice pres­i­dent of the air­line’s plan­ning and fuel de­part­ment. He is ex­cited and de­ter­mined to over­come dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. “Com­pe­ti­tion is tough. It is a chal­lenge for premium air­lines like us to con­tinue our pres­ence and lead­er­ship with­out com­pro­mis­ing the po­si­tion we painstak­ingly built up for the past 70 years.”

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing him to the coun­try are his wife Swathy and their 13-year-old daugh­ter, whom he just col­lected from the air­port min­utes be­fore this in­ter­view. He says of his fam­ily, “They are look­ing for­ward to spend­ing their time here. Al­though there are a fair num­ber of Filipinos in Sin­ga­pore, we weren’t re­ally ex­posed to the Filipino cul­ture and cui­sine.”

SIA and its fully-owned sub­sidiaries op­er­ate in four air­ports in the Philippines and fly to 134 des­ti­na­tions world­wide. They have al­ways been on top of the un­end­ing change of trends. “I no­ticed that Filipinos are very close to their fam­i­lies and tend to travel in large groups very of­ten. They are also now more will­ing to ex­plore new des­ti­na­tions,” Kun­du­vara re­marks. Mil­len­ni­als, on the other hand, present a whole new level of at­ten­tion to de­tail. They pre­fer to cus­tomise their travel ex­pe­ri­ences and make the de­ci­sions them­selves in all as­pects of their trav­els—flight, food, ac­com­mo­da­tion, and itin­er­ary—more than other fly­ers in dif­fer­ent age brack­ets. “For­tu­nately for us, we of­fer a much higher qual­ity of ser­vice as we don’t charge a premium just for the sake of it,” he says.

For his favourite in-fl ight ser­vice, Book the Cook takes the cake as it al­lows premium pas­sen­gers to se­lect their pre­ferred cui­sine on board. SIA has an in­ter­na­tional culi­nary panel com­posed of qual­ity chefs from dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Its air­crafts also have ex­cep­tional in-flight en­ter­tain­ment. They were the fi rst air­line to of­fer AV on-de­mand in all classes sev­eral years ago.

“Our po­si­tion in the mar­ket right now didn’t come by chance. Our abil­ity to think of what a cus­tomer would like and our willingness to ex­per­i­ment help. When we saw oth­ers fol­low­ing us, we knew that we must’ve been do­ing some­thing right,” he says.

A NEW CHAL­LENGE Gen­eral Man­ager Balagopal Kun­du­vara at SIA’s Sil­verKris Lounge in NAIA 3; (inset) Sin­ga­pore Air­lines’ ex­cel­lent ser­vice

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