We sat with this aspiring young man to hear his story on how he drive sales, with the equal enthusiasm and energy he puts to give the ball a whack at his favorite sport.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional experience and history?
I left school at the age of nineteen in 2006 and joined SriLankan Airlines as an intern at the Flight Operations Department. My responsibilities as a trainee included overseeing crew rosters. Six months later, I was transferred to SriLankan Airlines e-Commerce division where I worked around the airlines’ internet booking engine and attended online inquiries. I also worked close with SriLankan Holidays, the airlines’ leisure arm.
Six months later, I received an opportunity from Aitken Spence PLC, a Sri Lankan blue chip conglomerate with operations in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific. I was offered to work in the Maldives for a SriLankan Airlines Passenger Sales Agent (PSA) for Ace Travels Maldives, a joint-venture between Aitken Spence and Inner Maldives Holidays. It was an opportunity too good to say no to, so I immediately accepted the offer and began my journey into the Maldives in October 2007, twelve years ago. This was also the first appointment of a SriLankan Airlines Passenger Sales Agent directly by the airline. My position was a Ticketing and Reservations Agent and worked in the counter along with my manager, supervisor and colleague. We began the operation with five staff including a finance officer. Our performance in sales was very aggressive in the market then, by December 2007 we were able to capture a market share of 25 percent. By August 2008, we were able to increase our market share by a further 10 percent totaling to 35 percent, and by the end of the year, we had 40 percent. In 2009 September, I was promoted as the Head of Operations, by then we have captured 55 percent of the SriLankan Airlines market share in the Maldives sales territory. In the Aitken Spence Group, I was also the junior in line to be the next Manager.
In December 2010, our market share surpassed the former General Sales Agents. A year later in December 2011, Ace Travels Maldives was appointed as the new General Sales Agent of SriLankan Airlines in Maldives. We also established Ace Aviation Services Maldives, under which we continued the SriLankan Airlines General Sales Agent. I was the Business Development Manager for both, Ace Travels Maldives and Ace Aviation Services Maldives from November 2011 until end of October 2016, and have been serving as the Country Manager for both companies since November 2016.
Please tell us how Ace Travels Maldives and Ace Aviation Service Maldives, distinguishes itself from other competitive brands in the segment?
It’s the people and our team here that drives us! We may have our unique ways at the work environment, but to be very frank, I have not seen or heard of this unity and family bond that we have here among others in the same business. We have very passionate people
onboard who brings in several years of experience and are responsible in what they do every day. It is a crucial factor to have the right people to attend your customers. The essence of our strength is backed by our local partner as well as internationally.
We have a huge competition among the airlines, but I don’t think we have anything significant among the travel companies.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Maldives and the market for the Indian Sub- continent?
We sustained an excellent market share until end of 2017, but then there were new airlines coming in, especially the low-cost carriers. Some of the airlines increased its frequencies along with direct operations which contributed to the impact. The competition has certainly become very aggressive, mainly due to low fares. And, if you look at South-east Asian and the Indian Sub-continent, SriLankan Airlines still dominates the major traffic inbound as well outbound. Maldives is a premier destination for SriLankan and currently operates 29 weekly
flights to Malé and Gan. In wake of the recent incidents in Sri Lanka, effective from July 25, SriLankan Airlines will operate its Narita flight directly to Maldives from Japan, and via Colombo to Narita until end of February 2020.
The aftermath of Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday attacks heavily affected both inbound and outbound traffic from Maldives. As you understand, China, Far East, Middle East and Europe are vital markets for Maldives and these passengers did not want to travel to Maldives since there was a stop in Colombo. This also led to cancellations of a significant number of Combo bookings, which had its first stop in Colombo and the second in Maldives (a multi- destination holiday package). And in terms of outbound, from a cultural norm, locals insisted to travel to Colombo, not only with SriLankan Airlines, but with any carrier from Malé. But, then, we are seeing a drastic improvement since then, it’s slowly picking up and could take an year to get back where we were. It is certainly a hit on a major scale!
How do you maintain work life balance?
I am an avid cricketer - a member of the local expat team and I have also served as a member of the Maldives National Cricket Team. I have participated in a few tournaments and cricket has always been a serious hobby of mine. I play cricket every other weekend. Apart fromthat, I also travel within the Maldives as well as overseas for work and with family, and there is a lot of sales calls though. I may be traveling to resorts often during the weekends, but also with the purpose of securing business. So, this is a country where you can actually balance both, work and pleasure.
What are some of the daily challenges you face in this industry?
Competition from low cost carriers has been an everyday challenge in this industry. From a human resource perspective, finding the right people is also difficult, something many organizations are struggling with, and we need to have more HR developments locally to control the high employee turnovers and need to educate youth about the future challenges. However, I admire challenges as it helps to take right decisions and motivates ongoing operations.
Following the Easter Sunday attacks, hotel occupancy across Sri Lanka plummeted by 85% to 90%, triggering calls for urgent revival measures. What actions has Sri Lankan Airlines taken as part of the recovery?
One of the first actions taken by SriLankan Airlines was to assist with the air-ticket refund process without any fees, and to provide free date changes. We wanted our passengers to continue their trip to Sri Lanka after rescheduling it to a future date, instead of refunding or canceling. As I have mentioned earlier, SriLankan Airlines will operate its Narita flights directly to Malé and then via Colombo to Narita, this will also increase the frequency from Malé to Colombo with four daily flights. We also wanted to do something similar with our Shanghai and Beijing flights, but unfortunately with our current fleet, we have operational limitations that prevent it.
SriLankan Airlines has launched a number of online promotions. Sri Lanka Tourism has been promoting its programs across countries to position Sri Lanka on the global tourism map that will also help the industry to bounce back quickly from negative sentiments of the Easter Sunday attacks. Similarly, to change the negative sentiments of the Maldivians, we are also planning a press trip to Sri Lanka soon.
Former President of Maldives, and Speaker of the Parliament Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, along with a delegation of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) visited Sri Lanka in mid-June to display the solidarity Maldives has with Sri Lanka. From the perspective of a Sri Lankan national, I really appreciate his gesture for standing with us.
Share with us the most memorable moment that has ever happened during your career.
The key objective in my career has always been to strive for a position where I would be able to take in challenges, manage and delegate daily operations as a head in charge. My most cherished and memorable moment was in November 2016, when I was appointed as the Country Manager for both, Ace Travels Maldives and Ace Aviation ServicesMaldives. It is something that I achieved with lots of hard work, especially whirling myself through the organization’s corporate ladder. I felt truly happy, as it was a dream come true. But again, this is not a position where I will settle, I will continue to seek more challenges.
What’s the latest from Ace Travels Maldives and Ace Aviation Services Maldives?
Ace Travels Maldives and Ace Aviation Services Maldives participated as a group along with Inner Maldives Holidays - the three companies as the Principal Sponsor of this year’s Vacations Expo. We got good leads and had a fantastic event this year and the last 3 years. Vacations Expo, the only travel and trade fair catering the outbound market in the Maldives is a very successful annual event. The event was held this year from July 2nd through 3rd and 4th at Dharubaaruge. We had lots of special offers and promotions that was on sale only at Vacations Expo.
We are also nominated for this year’s South Asian Travel Awards (SATA) for the categories; Leading PSA for Ace Travels Maldives, and Leading Travel Agent – Outbound for Ace Aviation Services Maldives.
Ace Travels Maldives has also recently launched an Online Travel Agent (OTA) portal, through which we could sell all the airlines, hotels, tours and excursions globally with dynamic rates. We have a separate corporate division under “Ace Premier”, this is where we also take Ace to a premier level in catering our corporate clients and resorts. This will also include CIP and VIP at the airport along with Insurance. We also have Ace Holidays under which we handle holiday packages and tours.
How would you define ‘leadership’ and what do you think is the most important quality to have to be one?
Leaders have to be an example for juniors and subordinates. I believe honesty and integrity are the key attributes for a leader. Leaders should not manage the company; they must run the company with the support from their team members.
What advice do you offer young people interested in a career in airline reservations and sales?
I always had one dream and one target, and worked very hard for it and i still continue in doing so. You will have to show your commitment and passion towards your work. Unfortunately, many youngsters who possess talent do not take these factors seriously, and take office environment easy and light. I believe if we could encourage, educate youngtalented people considering these factors, it will help everyone for a better future. You always need to possess a character with a vision and a mission.
“You always need to possess a character with a vision and a mission”
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