TheDesignAir Exclusive Interview With SriLankan’s Saminda Perera

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SriLankan Airlines might be not on everyone’s radar, but there is good reason why it should. It could even be the one secret airline that you might of heard of that you really should try. With incredibly competitive prices, connections as quick as 45 minutes and a world-class inflight product, this oneworld carrier is certainly worth taking a flight. We talk exclusively to the airline’s General Manager of marketing.

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Mr Saminda Perera leads SriLankan’s Marketing and Corporate Communications Strategy. He has more than 17 years in the air transport industry and was appointed to his current post in June, 2015.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Saminda, can you explain a little bit about your role and responsibilities at SriLankan?
I am currently managing the strategic brand building and marketing communication efforts of country’s national carrier; SriLankan Airlines as the General Manager Marketing. My area of focus is to progressively develop modern marketing and brand management trends that are innovative, operationally and economically sustainable, made highly customer-oriented-through effective and comprehensive marketing /consumer engagement communication strategies and action plans in order to achieve profitability, brand reputation, elevation and brand stability.

It’s a pretty all-encompassing role. To build up this experience, can you tell us about your background?
I started off as a Consultant/Evaluator at UNESCO, France and since I joined SriLankan Airlines my 17-years’ professional experience in commercial aviation ranges from sales and marketing to brand building and corporate communications. I have held many strategic positions in corporate communication and brand building and having experience in planning and implementing entire marketing communication mix and integrated marketing communication strategies for SriLankan Airlines and previously for Oman Air.

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SriLankan has changed a lot with regards to product in the last few years, can you describe some of the improvements?
Our product has increasingly evolved to embrace the trends of contemporary air travel. For instance, our long-haul aircraft have flatbed seats in Business Class and in Economy Class we have maintained a seat pitch of 32’’ (larger than most international airlines), thereby allowing our passengers extra comfort and space.

Our short haul fleet has been enhanced with the induction of the new A320neo and A321 neo aircraft. This makes an airline with possibly the youngest of fleets, averaging approximately 7 years. The narrow body fleet has real Business Class leather seats with an amazing 12-15” recline and 13.3” screens while in economy, there are 11.6” full HD screens at each leather-covered seat.

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The most noticeable is obviously your new business class with all-aisle access. This is a great improvement on the previous product, how has it been received?
We have received an overwhelmingly positive feedback from passengers. Today, a number of passengers choose to fly SriLankan Airlines, because of the seats with aisle access which ensures 50% of the passengers the option of a window seat. Our Business Class experience comes with a host of onboard comforts which complement well with our long haul journeys with no stops in between.

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Does this mean you had to reduce the amount of business class seats? Has that effected your revenue model, SriLankan always seem to have a fairly affordable product?
On the contrary, with the herringbone concept we have increased the number of seats by approximately 30% yet providing the comfort of the full flatbed and the privacy as required of a premium cabin.

That’s incredibly impressive, but how do you go about injecting Sri Lankan design touchpoints into your product? 

Sri Lanka is a resplendent island which is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The country boasts a written history of two and a half millennia. From ancient temples and timeless ruins to aquamarine beaches, misty mountains, lush tea gardens, the vibrancy of the island is an artist’s dream. Then there are the spectacular species of fauna such as the elusive leopard, the sloth bears, the majestic peacock and the gigantic elephants and blue whales, all these enrich the island experience that is Sri Lanka.

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As the country’s National Airline that carries the invitation to the world to come and experience the country, our onboard experience has drawn ample inspiration from the island’s picturesque aspects.

It is known in colour psychology that green/blue are the most calming and soothing to the human eye. They are the very colours found abundantly in Sri Lanka. The Sinharaja rain forest, a world heritage site in Sri Lanka is home to endemic and endangered flora and fauna. They are depicted and woven into the Economy seat fabric design in shades of blue and aquamarine.

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The bulkheads features the world’s largest land and sea mammals on a single island and the Sambar, a unique white breed of Monkey found only in Sinharaja. Calming water fronts and long shadows on bulkhead designs were meant to bring in calmness/peace/relaxation and the peacock icon depicts the SriLankan Brand.

Mood lighting, which complements the above cabin is an integral part of our brand presentation and Sri Lanka, recreating a beautiful tropical sunrise, flowing from the back of the cabin to the front to wake up before breakfast is served.

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For evening flights we emulate a typical Sri Lankan “fairy sky” sunsets which transcends to sleep with the sparking of stars in the night sky creating a unique passenger experience.

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The attention to detail is amazing, does this Sri Lankan design aesthetic also find its way in to amenities?
Today SriLankan Airlines complements its premium business class product with the world renowned German lifestyle brand Aigner with a kit specifically developed for long haul flights. We have medium haul kits for passengers on flights around 4 hours too.

In addition to the amenities including a tooth brush kit, comb/brush, ear plugs the long haul includes Aigner White lip balm, Aigner White body lotion. On the medium haul the body lotion is replaced with an Aigner White hand cream.

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The lounge in Colombo is a great space, with spa treatments and great food options, is there a plan to update the space or increase its size, as some connections could be lengthy, and passengers could spend a large proportion of their journey in the lounge?
Unfortunately with space restrictions within the present airport, SriLankan is unable to increase the floor area of the present lounge. Yet we also have a silent zone with fully recline sofas for those who may spend that extra time at the lounge. With the expansion of the airport to be completed within the next 2 years SriLankan is actively looking at the option of providing lounge facilities to its ever increasing numbers of premium passengers to over 500 passengers at any given time.

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That’s an exciting development, but it’s not just the business class passengers that get treated. It’s impressive to see that even in economy on your one-hour hops to the Maldives, you offer a proper meal service. Is being a full-service carrier in these ways still an important differentiator?
It is a healthy competition with the arrival of many LCC airlines to Sri Lanka, yet there is always those who consider the reputation, the care and the warmth of SriLankan above all. There is also those who have flown low cost carriers who wish to enhance their travel experience by flying SriLankan. We have also realized that on these short sectors, some passengers do not have their meals due to the time of day, having had their meals at the airport or on the previous sector etc. Given this, we have moved a step further by providing the passengers with an elegantly boxed meal where they have the option of taking it away with them to have at the airport awaiting the arrival of the baggage or even while transiting from the airport to the hotel or a long drive home.

Does SriLankan see itself as an innovator in the airline industry, or does it maintain a reliable industry standard to ensure its not left behind?
Innovating is not one of the easiest things for an airline of our size. The costs could be prohibitive. Yet it does not mean that we do not look at all possible options to come up with something different. We survey 8-10K passengers each month by collecting live data from each touch point and reflected on dashboards updated every 2 hours. This helps us to be proactive. Not only do we maintain a reliable industry standard but we try to exceed not limiting to service but in safety, maintenance and in operations. It’s the overall product.

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How has the oneworld partnership helped SriLankan?
Joining oneworld has given SriLankan Airlines the opportunity to serve alongside the industry leaders and has immensely widened our reach, which has allowed us to serve our passengers with a wider choice in terms of travel and our frequent flyers the opportunity to be part of a bigger premier circle granting them more rewards and privileges.

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So the present looks like a great place to be, but what does the future hold for SriLankan?
SriLankan Airlines will continue to consolidate its presence in the Asian region through frequency enhancements and induction of new destinations, as Asia will continue to be our region of focus. Currently SriLankan Airlines is the international airline that operates out of the most number of Indian destinations and we continue to explore potential in the Indian Sub-Continent. With our new daily direct operations to Melbourne, we have established our presence in Down Under which will pave the way for us to explore more cities.

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What other airlines do you personally admire?
I admire Lufthansa for its hunger to embrace innovation, its fearlessness to adopt the new and its contribution to the development of commercial aviation, Singapore Airlines for envisaging all things modern with just the right touch of tradition which gives it a unique look and Air New Zealand for its creation of unique and novel marketing communications content, which is inspiring.

Check out TheDesignAir’s review of the A330 Business Class product here.


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