Aviation Expert: ‘Every Challenge is an Opportunity’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 26 September 2015

Burma is fast becoming a popular travel destination for both tourists and businesspeople, from Asia and further afield. Its growing aviation industry is undergoing a rapid transformation as more routes now connect the country with regional and international hubs to which access was once relatively limited.

 The Irrawaddy recently sat down with Michael Gaebler, the CEO of global airline and tourism representative Aviareps, to talk about the challenges of working in Burma and the country’s prospects as a travel destination.

 What kind of work does AVIAREPS do in Burma?

Aviareps, on a global scale, is a leader in the [aviation] industry for general representation of airlines. We’ve also extended our business into tourism, working for destinations for authorities, for tourist spots, as their arm into the international field. We’ve also diversified more into representing hotel chains and so on.

Myanmar [Burma] came on our radar some two years ago. Our director of Asia aviation recognized that Myanmar is a very interesting outbound destination. It’s very much in fashion for European and American travelers, Asian as well. So we looked into it and recognized possible partners.

Aviareps Myanmar is currently representing nine airlines, and we are ambitious enough to say that we’re going to double this number.

Again, we want to extend our activities. We’ve started to become active for the Singapore tourist port. One of our projects in the Myanmar market is to give Singapore a strong face in the nation.

Are you focused on technical support, or more structured marketing and business models?

Actually, we’re a sales marketing firm, a PR firm. For airlines, it’s mainly sales driven, so we drive their revenue. Internationally, airlines, logically, focus very much on their home markets, maybe some neighboring markets. If they appoint a professional company that completely keeps their identity, we don’t act as Aviareps, we act in the identity of the airline. Take the Singapore airlines in the Russian Federation, for example. We act fully in their identity in terms of business cards, email addresses, events, and total communication. We give airlines a face in international areas and have a no-fixed cost solution, so it’s purely based on their rival compensation, and that’s also what we do in Myanmar for international companies.

We’re also interested in working for Myanmar as a nation. There are a number of interesting airline candidates in this country that are logically, because of their domestic flight carrier or regional flight carrier, looking very much to national sales. We would like to become active for them in European, American and Asian areas, to become their sales vehicle abroad.

So is the marketing only provided to international airlines? What about domestic airlines?

We’re talking to the current airlines in Myanmar to become their sales and marketing vehicle abroad because there’s huge potential abroad. Myanmar as a destination, in terms of tourism but even for corporate [interests], is in a very early stage. And today I think the first ones to go global are the winners. It’s very simple.

How do you see the current domestic airline industry in Burma, now that a lot of the regional airlines are eyeing the Burmese market?

First of all, I’m certainly not an expert on the local Myanmar aviation industry. And secondly, it’s also a political question, which I couldn’t answer, even if I did know. What I do know is that the more flexible and transparent you act in a market, the better your local players become. That maybe sounds a bit odd at first: Why should we open up traffic to other competitors, and maybe to neighboring countries that are already more advanced? Look at these low-cost carriers that are flying for peanuts, really—if they survive or not, it doesn’t matter, they have an impact. The overall impact for a local aviation industry is nevertheless positive because people only change if they have to.

We’ve also helped to move companies into the new, digital age. I want to give you an example not of a domestic carrier, but of a regional, European carrier called Aer Lingus, from Ireland. They’ve been struggling to be a legacy airline, so to speak, fighting against European competitors, against long-haul airlines, and in their backyard is Ryanair, which is maybe the most aggressive local carrier in the world. So Aer Lingus had to change. They hired Aviareps, outsourced all their European offices, and let Aviareps make the drive toward digital revenue.

What are your prospects for hotel chains and other tourism markets here?

Let me start with the tourist board. The tourist board is a key driver in terms of brand events abroad—client relationships, trade relationships, media relationships. As far as my information goes on Myanmar at the moment, it’s represented in the global field in two offices—the US and Japan—which is good, but far from good enough, because there are intensive travel markets. Take, within Europe, Germany and France, which have high travel intensity to this region. There are other Asian or APEC countries that would definitely require a stimulating organization, not administrative, because an embassy is something else and has a different job, but a marketing and PR firm has another job—they have to continuously stimulate the brand event and travel to Myanmar, so that’s for sure somewhere where we should become active.

This is equally logical to hotel chains, which usually have a strong focus locally and regionally, and again, it’s very important to have this traffic and revenue stream from abroad.

As you know, we’re still a developing country, and we need better infrastructure—including the Internet and other communications. Do you believe your business will be successful in Burma? What would be your biggest challenges here?

True, infrastructure, technology, and other factors are creating some barriers to faster development here in Myanmar, but I can tell you that other markets are horribly competitive. That’s much more horrible than infrastructure problems, so there’s no easy exercise, and you can certainly say that every challenge is an opportunity, and it has a fantastic momentum. Economic and infrastructure development go hand in hand. I don’t know any nation that’s ready to invest sums of money without seeing a fast return, that the first fruit must somehow be low hanging. There have been more people traveling to Myanmar to spend more money. Consequently, there’s an understanding that infrastructure plays a more vital role. It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity.