Saturday, 26 July, 2014

 
Published May 10, 2014
Travel
Mile-high luxury
In their increasingly competitive industry, airlines looking to differentiate themselves from rivals are raising the wow factor in premium offerings to stand out. By Tay Suan Chiang
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LAP OF COMFORT
(Above) The Residence by Etihad comes with its own living room, a separate bedroom and en suite shower room. - PHOTO: ETIHAD AIRWAYS

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'(Highly reputed airlines) like to market their award winning credentials amongst consumers and within the market, and these sort of extra perks can make the difference in helping them garden these awards.'
Lightfoot Travel director for the Middle East market Matt Vlemmiks

FLYING from point A to point B by private jet? That's so last year. The latest way to jetset in style for the well-heeled traveller is on The Residence by Etihad. United Arab Emirates' national carrier, Etihad Airways, recently unveiled The Residence, the world's most luxurious living space in the air.

The Residence, onboard an A380 aircraft, comes with its own living room, a separate bedroom and en suite shower room. Guests will also have their own dedicated, Savoy Butler Academy-trained butler.

The Residence will debut in January 2015 from Abu Dhabi to London, and will subsequently expand to other routes by end-2015.

Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways chief commercial officer, says: "As a fast-growing Mideast luxury airline, well-known for its luxury travel offerings, Etihad Airways is looking to set itself apart from the rest of the industry with products unparalleled in style and quality to cater to the individual tastes of every VIP traveller."

Matt Vlemmiks, director for the Middle East market at luxury travel firm Lightfoot Travel, says that highly reputed airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways "like to market their award winning credentials amongst consumers and within the market, and these sort of extra perks can make the difference in helping them garden these awards". He adds that "it is interesting that Etihad Airways have made this leap, as their local competition with Emirates is fairly intense and this taps into the UAE's drive to be the first, the biggest and the most glitzy in just about every possible sector".

Etihad Airways is not the only airline that is going all out to woo top end passengers.

ANA, Japan's largest airline, has a new branding campaign called By Design, which covers all areas from newly renovated suite lounges at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda for its first and business class customers, to seat design and configuration in the first and business class cabins, to introducing The Connoisseur in-flight dining programme, where the airline collaborates with renowned chefs in Japan to create a special menu.

Ryosei Nomura, senior manager at ANA public relations, says the campaign is to "keep up with the expansion of global business opportunities, with the expansion of the Haneda airport in March and the growth of visitors to Japan, and to keep winning this growing global competition. To achieve this, ANA needs to raise its service and brand awareness among foreign customers". The airline is better known domestically.

To keep up with competition, airlines have been constantly upgrading their amenities and services. Qantas is launching upgraded business suites designed by famed Aussie designer Marc Newson later this year. The new business class seats can be left in a recline position for take-off and landing, maximising the opportunity for rest - a key point of difference between Qantas and other carriers flying to Asia.

In July, Finnair is opening a new premium lounge in Helsinki Airport, which will include new private shower suites and a Finnish sauna.

Travel industry veteran Alicia Seah, director of marketing communications for Dynasty Travel, says that over the last decade, with the influx of low cost, mid-tier no frills airlines, full service airlines are all struggling to get a share of the growing pie around the region as travellers become more well-heeled and affluent.

"There is a need for the full service airlines to differentiate and innovate in order to stay relevant and adapt to the increasingly competitive environment, and remain relevant by targeting consumers whose needs are not met by the low-cost, mid-tier and full service airlines," says Ms Seah.

Wooing the top end crowd isn't just for corporate travellers. Mr Vlemmiks says that corporate travellers may come to expect these kind of perks on flights that they might take almost daily, but for leisure travellers, it all adds to the feeling of a holiday as a once or twice yearly event of which the journey is very much a key part of the process. "With the experience being less of a commonplace part of day-to-day life for leisure travellers, they are arguably more likely to take full advantage of the decadent extra services and products on offer," he adds.

Caroline Lam, executive director of Quintessentially Travel, says that besides the comfort and services received when travelling in first and business class, passengers like the idea of exclusivity and personalisation. "Recognising them and addressing them by their names, porter services, express check in, buggy rides, no queuing for security checks, Michelin star meal options, variety of reading material and entertainment programmes all help make their journey a memorable one," she says.

And while The Residence is the biggest wow in commercial aviation now, it shouldn't surprise travellers should another airline come up with another service that is even more astounding.

Robin Yap, president of Travel Corporation (Asia), says: "As there are more options at the luxury level, airlines cannot afford to rest on their laurels and will have to continue improving their overall delivery, both on air and on ground."

taysc@sph.com.sg
@TaySuanChiangBT