Jean Philippe Benoit has been the General Manager of SWISS for the past 2 years and here he shares his views why SWISS International Air Lines should be your preferred choice for travel to Europe.
What have been the achievements of SWISS in 2009 regarding India and what are the likely routes and frequencies that you plan to introduce in 2010?
An integral part of the airline’s global fleet renewal program was the introduction of the brand-new Airbus A330-300 to serve our 2 Indian routes, Zurich-Delhi and Zurich-Mumbai. This took place in autumn 2009, as per plan. One can talk of a fundamental move, with benefits for all stakeholders in a win-win-win situation: our customers enjoying substantially enhanced levels of comfort, improved economics for SWISS thanks to aircraft of the newest technology and exemplary fuel efficiency and, as a natural consequence, positive impact for the environment. Those are just core elements; numerous others would take more than these columns to enumerate and describe.
Strictly from the customer perspective, we saw it as important not to limit ourselves to come up with a state-of-the-art new business class, but to revisit all cabins with a fresh and modern approach. Hence the rethinking and setting of new quality standards for each passenger category of service: First, Business and Economy. From an overall perspective, one can talk of a quantum leap in terms of passenger comfort. By the way, this entire process was not limited to laboratory research and statistical evidence, but accompanied A to Z by a range of customer panels. Customer satisfaction was key to the project, and customer involvement came out as a natural. As an outcome, I must tell you that customer satisfaction and response has been overwhelmingly positive on our Indian routes.
You have been in India for 7 years. How has SWISS evolved during your tenure and what were the challenges faced by you?
We served India, an identified important market, since the beginning of the company’s existence, 7 years back. Tangible proof of our commitment to the Indian market: even during the recent crisis of 2009 we continued to serve both our Indian destinations, Delhi and Mumbai. This consistency, by the way, should come our way at the time of recovery of the economy, the first signs of which we seem to see now. We are certainly well positioned as an actor of the improved trend.
Take us through the products offered on SWISS for the leisure and corporate traveller and which are the market segments that SWISS plans to target for the coming year?
Mono-culture was never our credo. SWISS is a company wanting to serve all customer segments. Though seasonality, origins of traffic, purpose of travel inevitably forces one to set priorities, segregating as such is not our idea of a modern business approach. To the contrary, we aim at standing for each and everyone, the opulent as well as the budget traveller, whatever the reason of the journey, albeit with a red thread: care and quality must be built-in in your product and service chain irrespective of the class you choose to fly in. Our focus remains unaltered: that of a healthy balance combining all traffic types, prioritizing destination Switzerland and surrounding areas and, by extension Europe, our natural playground. Going this way enables us best to take advantage of our prime geographical location at the centre of Europe. Essential is a well-coordinated strategy with one’s home airport, in our case Zurich. This well-managed, high-quality infrastructure of human dimension magnificently supports our policy for individual care and easy connections. Zurich is probably one of the easiest and most agreeable points to enter the Schengen area (of which Switzerland is a member). All in all, as SWISS, we want to keep the pleasure of travelling intact, by delivering quality all along the service chain, by keeping the human touch to our endeavours, by putting the passenger’s convenience at the centre of our preoccupations.
Which were the new products launched by SWISS during the last quarter of 2009 and what can one expect from SWISS in terms of new aircraft, routes, culinary experiences and service on flying with SWISS?
Periodical frequencies will be added, such as a 6th to the Delhi flights this winter, or also a 6th to Mumbai as of June, thereby gradually filling a few loopholes still remaining. As far as culinary experiences, the cycles featuring various regional cuisines of Switzerland, in cooperation with reputed restaurants and chefs in all corners of the country, will be continued in 2010, once again reflecting customer acclaim. Product novelties otherwise are announced when introduced. What I can tell you is that we have no intention to rest on our laurels.
What are the advantages or USP of SWISS when flying…
a) in Switzerland
b) across Europe
c) across the Atlantic and onwards to North America
Flying to and from our home-country, Switzerland, is of course our specialty, so-to-say our basics. Next to promoting our own air services, co-promoting the country as a destination is the object of our particular care, year-in and year-out. This pleasant task, primarily incumbent to the tourist board, Switzerland Tourism, is shared in fact by many actors, down-stream with a large range of players including resorts, mountain railways, hotels and retailers, and up-stream with the distribution system such as tour-operators and agents selling Switzerland in the Indian market. The national airline traditionally plays a pivotal role in all such activities, and SWISS takes its responsibility seriously. The interests are common, all the more is the pleasure shared.
Timings of flights will not be modified; this is a request which emanates from our customers, time and again. On the other hand, what we will do is enrich the pallet of European connections, particularly east-bound on the way back to Mumbai. Let us take Barcelona as a concrete example: this destination with year-on-year increasing demand will receive a new frequency to and from Zurich as of February, and perfectly connect with our Mumbai flights. Other important points, both in the South and in the North of Europe will follow suit. Quality has many sides; the quality of a schedule, or punctuality, or service reliability is not often spoken of, yet they have become important components in travel comfort, components the discerning traveler attaches importance on, and increasingly a decision purchase factor.
What benefits does a STAR Alliance Frequent Flyer get whilst flying SWISS or any of your partner airlines?
Multiple are the benefits. STAR Alliance Network is unparalleled, and so is the choice of the customer in the schedule options. Then of course there are all the fringe benefits such as Frequent Flyer Programme tie-ups, airport lounge accesses, round-the-world fares and airport terminal sharing. The belonging of SWISS in the Lufthansa Group must also be mentioned, with yet more synergies exploited such as savings through economies of scale, joint procurement of various goods and services, joint development of software packages and much more – all of which eventually comes to the benefit our customers. This is the way it should be, and this is the way it is.
You have completed over 36 years in the airline industry. What are the major changes that you have seen in the aviation industry over the last 3 decades and what are the challenges ahead?
Please do not mention those 36 years, underlining the age of my arteries – though I would completely object to any “old thinking” syndrome. Enough young and brilliant colleagues are around me in the company and in this country to make sure I do not get a chance at laying back and relaxing. Still, to answer your question: 36 years of perpetual changes – primarily of technological nature thanks to the internet revolution and the new communication systems. Then the airlines fare structures and the revenue management systems (where I started my career) have progressed to a speed and amplitude unthinkable only 10 years ago, pushed by market liberalization. There has also been a change in the social and consumer habits of customers that triggered the periodical re-thinking of the offers, departing from the one-time elite product for a privileged few to now a much wider base of customers whose demands are different, however no less exacting. But in the end, we still run for the same: full cabins at good yields at all times.
As per your experience what should a leisure and business passenger look for whilst selecting a short-haul and a long-haul flight?
Many criteria could be mentioned to answer your question. Let me just say that passengers today know exactly what they want. With short-haul flights, schedule attractiveness and frequency, punctuality, speedy ground processes all belong to the essentials, in particular to the frequent traveller on a professional trip. Service on board, F&B or amenities, though surely appreciated, are not much of a decision factor anymore. With long-haul sectors, on the other hand, good service and comfort levels on board get relatively high importance, whatever the purpose of travel. Seating comfort or a good entertainment system both play a larger role, naturally so bearing in mind the time spent in the cabin. That safety and security is basics to everything and that the price element is a decisive purchasing factor for the vast majority of travellers, including the corporate one, is a given.
During these years you would have travelled extensively within India and Switzerland. Which are your favorite cities or regions in each of these countries?
Extensively? Do you know how big and varied your fascinating country is? I have hardly seen maybe a twentieth or a fiftieth of what I desire to see, so please come in 10 years or so and ask again the same question. Reply guaranteed.
Lastly, your message to readers and why should SWISS be their preferred carrier choice in 2010 for their European or American travel?
We want you to be our customers; we will strive to merit your patronage. Thanks to Opportunities Today for your tour d’horizon through comprehensive questions.