The “Amazon Of Travel” is coming!

4 months ago

In a world where data rules, companies are now looking towards harnessing their intricate learnings of their clientele and improving their products to appeal to a discerning marketplace. AirAsia is well on its way to that goal.

Everyone is looking for a one-stop centre that can cater to their every whim. In the world of travel, it’s always about getting flights, booking hotels, planning excursions and other lifestyle related purchases.

AirAsia has the vision of putting all of that under one roof. Its competitors are cautioning them, but the company is hell bent on disrupting the marketplace once again. Whatever you say about them, you’ve got to hand it to them. As they say, fortune favours the bold.

Spencer Lee, CEO of AirAsia BIG and Director of Commercial Strategy and Development, RedBeat Ventures, recently penned an article on his LinkedIn page where he talked about data being AirAsia’s best friend.

In a lot of ways, data is what it’s all about in business these days. Companies across the globe are gathering data and understanding data to connect with customers on multiple platforms.

AirAsia has integrated Google Cloud’s machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) technologies to help make its operations more efficient and, in turn, serve its guests better.

The company has served over 500 million passengers over the last 17 years and the data it has collected has helped it transform its business.

You would be amazed to know that the company receives 65 million active users every month. Its portal now resembles a comprehensive travel lifestyle platform and its “More Than Just An Airline” promise seems to be gathering pace.

Its recent innovation, the AirAsia Virtual Assistant (AVA), an intelligent chat-bot is all about enhancing the CX (customer experience) level as it interacts and listens to the airline’s guests and provides assistance where required.

Before we go any further, let’s take this opportunity to soak up some staggering facts. It has been reported by The Star,that the carrier gets about 1 billion ringgit in terms of revenue a year from its airasia.com website.

CEO and founder Tan Sri Tony Fernandes recently said that bolstering its digital capability is paramount in its effort to tap a regional e-commerce market that is set to increase to US$240 billion by 2025, as reported in The Star recently.

According to Fernandes, taking AirAsia on this journey is the ‘final part of the company’s evolution’ on its journey to become a tech player. AirAsia’s competitors in the online travel marketplace are notably Traveloka and Expedia.

AirAsia’s CEO and founder Tony Fernandes

Last year, sales of AirAsia flights alone, on airasia.com, amounted to US$4 billion (RM16 billion), according to Skift.com. AirAsia has also made senior hires who came from tech companies such as Grab, Expedia and Traveloka. The company has set up a tech center in Bangalore, India.

An AirAsia executive had recently declared that the airline could become the ‘Amazon of travel’. When queried about this, its deputy CEO, Aireen Omar, said the statement was ‘ambitious, but doable’.

Numerous media outlets have ran stories recently about AirAsia competitors cautioning the airline about its ambitions in this online travel and lifestyle marketplace, but the company is undeterred.

From the days of Tony Fernandes buying a debt-laden airline with 2 planes and a meagre headcount and turning it into a juggernaut in the last 17 years, the next evolution of AirAsia 3.0 will truly be a breathtaking one.

Fernandes said in a recent interview to industry press that the company is now the 13th largest airline flying about 100 million passengers annually and becoming a digital power is absolutely on the cards.

AirAsia is well on its way to creating its own ecosystem of travel, accommodation, excursion and online shopping in the Asia Pacific marketplace.

Marketing Magazine recently had the pleasure to sit down with Spencer Lee, CEO of AirAsia BIG and Director of Commercial Strategy and Development, RedBeat Ventures to discuss the current trajectory of the airline and its digitally driven expansion.

Spencer Lee, CEO of AirAsia BIG and Director of Commercial Strategy and Development, RedBeat Ventures.

Spencer is the Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia BIG, AirAsia’s award-winning loyalty programme and Travel360, the digital expansion of AirAsia’s inflight magazine.

He is also the Head of Commercial Strategy and Development of RedBeat Ventures, the digital corporate venture arm of AirAsia.

Spencer has over 13 years of experience in the aviation industry from serving AirAsia in several positions since he joined the company in 2006, culminating in his appointment as Commercial Director of AirAsia Malaysia in 2015.

He led the entire Malaysia commercial functions including product development, revenue management, marketing, sales and distribution, ancillary, government relations, partnership and customer relationship management and has received numerous industry awards.

Innately innovative, he has pioneered a number of projects in the group, including the setting up of AirAsia BIG Loyalty programme and ancillary income department.

Q: It’s an exciting odyssey that AirAsia is on right now. Could you please explain how the airline plans to evolve into a multi-faceted travel and lifestyle platform in the near future?

A: We’ve always been known as the company that made flying more accessible and affordable in the region. And most importantly, we’ve stayed true to that promise.

After 17 years in the business, the proverbial pot of gold is not so much that AirAsia is now the largest low-cost carrier in Asia by passengers, but more about our huge customer base and data.

With over 65 million monthly active users on airasia.com, the time has come for us to make airasia.com the go-to platform not just for flight booking, but for consumers’ everyday needs.

This is why we’ve transformed airasia.com into an everyday booking platform that offers more than just flights – now you can book other travel and lifestyle offerings such as hotels, holiday packages, activities and even daily deals on F&B, beauty, spa and more on airasia.com.

Q: Obviously the customer experience (CX) factor will be huge in the success of these plans going forward, could you tell us how this is being optimized in the bigger scheme of things?

A: AirAsia is a ‘guest-obsessed’ company and we believe we will win when we put the customer at the centre of everything we do.

To achieve this, we must really drive continuous improvement in our products and services and fully leverage data and technology to provide our customers a seamless experience and make them happy.

And we will remain guest-obsessed as we evolve from an airline into a travel and lifestyle platform company.

We will continue to innovate the AirAsia BIG loyalty programme as we move towards making BIG Points a universal digital currency that our members can use for transactions beyond the AirAsia ecosystem.

We are also currently working on various travel and lifestyle ventures – from deals and e-commerce (OURSHOP) to fintech (BigPay) and logistics (Teleport) – that will only serve to further enhance the overall AirAsia experience for our customers.

Q: Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are all parts and parcel of being a tech-driven company, how does AirAsia plan to bring all of this together for the journey ahead? Perhaps a bit about the Google Cloud partnership too?

A: Needless to say, data will be at the core of the entire airasia.com business. Partnering with Google Cloud allows us to integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence (ML/AI) into every aspect of our business and culture, and we are working closely with them to solve high-impact business challenges, including driving better demand forecasting, more targeted marketing and improving customer experience and loyalty by providing a more personalised experience for our customers.

Q: Leading on from that, could you tell us more about the tech center that is being set up in India?

A: The AirAsia Tech Centre is proof of our commitment as a company to deliver innovation. Located in Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, the tech centre is one of many global initiatives we are exploring to drive the company’s digital transformation by developing our strategic assets in-house and providing more opportunities to regional talent.

Currently the centre in Bengaluru has 35 digital experts, including software engineers and product managers. The team will work to streamline AirAsia’s digital assets, such as airasia.com and the AirAsia mobile app, alongside the creation and implementation of new products and enhancements such as our new AI-powered chatbot, AVA (AirAsia Virtual Allstar).

Q: From an advertising and branding perspective, how will the future brand positioning and brand strategy differ from what is being currently utilized by the company in its disparate markets?

A: AirAsia is a strong brand synonymous with value, innovation and making dreams come true, and we will continue to build on these promises as we expand our ecosystem beyond flights and make AirAsia more than just an airline.

Q: The company has over 65 million active monthly users, enormous data pools and robust networks of partnerships and contacts, however, is there a danger of diluting its unique selling points by trying to diversify into a range of services all at the same time?

A: We don’t see any danger of diluting our unique value proposition as airasia.com still operates within the travel and lifestyle space.

What we are doing is building a complementary ecosystem and we believe our customers will continue their journey with us beyond just flights to booking hotel accommodation, tours and activities, shopping and so on.

All these will increase consumer stickiness to airasia.com and increase customer lifetime value.

Q: As AirAsia embarks on this new tech-driven wave of innovation, how will AirAsia 3.0 keep its edge in a marketplace that is experiencing tighter margins, stiffer competition and a more discerning customer base?

A: One, be open-minded and agile. We must never be too fixated on how the business runs because what worked before may not work today, and we must always be ready to change and evolve. Two, be fast and up to speed.

The world is moving faster than we can imagine, and no one will wait for you to perfect your product. Don’t worry about making mistakes, we will learn and improve as we go.

One has to believe in getting out of your comfort zone, do things that have never been done before, and only then can one create breakthroughs.

In a lot of ways, it’s the same for airasia.com, the company has always trailblazed new frontiers by stepping out of its comfort zone and bringing the brand to greater heights.

It should be noted that AirAsia recently won the ‘World’s Best Low-Cost Airline’ award for the 11th year in a row at the prestigious Skytrax World Airline Awards 2019.

AirAsia was also named Asia’s Best Low-Cost Airline and won the World’s Best Low-Cost Airline Premium Cabin award for its Premium Flatbed, available on wide-body long-haul AirAsia X aircraft.

Despite all the data and technology, the most important asset is talent and it’s the talent that can humanize technology and make it relevant to people and solve real problems and needs of consumers.

This is all part of the ‘humanizing technology’ concept that is the overarching theme of what the company does on a global scale these days.

Q: Could you expand on the involvement of AirAsia as the title sponsor for Young Spikes Malaysia?

A: AirAsia is a brand that champions dreams. We want to encourage young local talents to strive to achieve their dreams.

This sponsorship reinforces our on-going commitment to empower home-grown talents and give them a platform to shine on the global stage.

Aside from the quality of work, level of skills and creativity, we would also like to emphasize the value of hard work, attitude, and passion among the youth.

This cover story article first appeared in Issue #239 of Marketing.

You may download the PDF version of MARKETING’s ISSUE 239 by clicking here.  

To advertise, call Jarrod on +6018-220 0682 or email jarrod@adoimagazine.com

MARKETING is Malaysia’s Number 1 industry magazine for the marketing communications industry and is read by 30,000 readers who are affluent advertising, media, and marketing decision makers nationwide. It is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in all facets of marketing communications and serves as an observatory of the marketplace for ideas, insights, and inspiration that can enhance brand strategies.

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