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Virgin Atlantic enjoys strong growth out of Mumbai

Stephen King, General Manager, Virgin Atlantic, speaks with T3 about the airline’s India market and their focus for the year


How was the year 2013 for Virgin Atlantic?

It was a good year. Last year was our first full calendar year of Mumbai operations, and counting our Delhi flights, we had 14 flights a week operational through the year. Our Mumbai routes saw a strong number of passengers connecting to and from the US. We knew it would be a high connectivity market, and we are delighted with the results. We have scored the highest market share on some of the US routes of all the incumbents.
It was also the first year of our domestic service in the UK – Little Red, which has received very good response from India. We have actually seen the market grow, which is positive for both ends of the route.


Overall, how did the Mumbai market fare during the first year?

Mumbai is a competitive market and we want to do better. But, we are pretty pleased across all cabins. The London route has always done well, but even the US route saw great load factor. And that is one of the messages we are trying to convey to everybody, and is a part of all our upcoming campaigns – How Far Virgin Flies. People are just getting used to us being back here, and now it’s about growing on that, and telling people everywhere they can go on Virgin. We also now have a Joint Venture (JV) with Delta on the trans-Atlantic and that opens up pretty much all of Delta’s networks to our markets. It’s a profit sharing JV.


Are there plans to increase flight frequencies?

Our flight timings work well and are really popular among passengers. With our connectivity with the UK domestic carrier and other airports, it works really well. We do hope to launch a second daily at some point, but it’s definitely not part of our 2014 plans.

When Sir Richard was here for the launch of the Mumbai operations, he did mention that flying out of more cities across India would be something we would look at, and that is still the case. But again, that’s not in the next year or so.


Is the possibility of an extension in the VoA to 180 countries an encouragement to expand India operations?

We are massively excited about the Visa on Arrival (VoA) extension. It is a great move for the Indian travel industry. So many people are reluctant to come here because of the complexity and the cost of the visa. To have an efficient VoA would be great. People say that tourism adds percentage points to GDP, and I really think the VoA would have a significant impact on the Indian economy.

Let’s see how well it goes, and if it does, by all means, I will be speaking to London about expansion. However, we need to strengthen all our routes and then move to the next stage.


Are there plans to invest in Indian carriers through the FDI?

Never say never, but there are no immediate plans. And although we are not in an alliance, we have really strong partnerships. We have demonstrated through our JV with Delta and other partnerships that it is a really important factor in our growth story. We have a code-share agreement with Jet Airways on the London route, and a strong relationship with them across India. They bring us passengers from across the country to connect to US or UK.


How important is the tier II market for Virgin Atlantic?

We get a healthy number of passengers from tier II cities in India. It is definitely a growing market and we want to make sure we pay attention to them. However, Delhi and Mumbai remain our big markets and our main focus.


What is your marketing strategy for 2014?

We are focusing on working with both the travel trade as well as the consumer. India will see some exciting campaigns this year. We are spending more money than we have ever spent on marketing here. We have gone a little local. We are not ready to divulge details yet, but it’s going to be a 360 degree initiative, targeting both the B2B and B2C segments.
A very big segment of the campaign is how to make it relevant to the trade, how to help them engage. FAMs have always been a part of our initiatives for India, and that will continue. We do plan a lot of training sessions as well. We also have a B2B site called the VSFlyingHub, which is an internal trade website, and we are encouraging more and more of the fraternity to come on to it. It’s like a community site to encourage internal communication. Another major focus this year is to train front liners in addition to the trade’s top brass.

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