Paolo de Renzis, head, Middle-East, Africa and Central Asia, sales, British Airways.
Paolo de Renzis is head, Middle-East, Africa and Central Asia, sales, British Airways. In this interview with a select journalists, he talks about the plans of the airline for the regions, the newly refurbished B747s to be placed in service on some routes, including Lagos-London in January 2016 as well as other current products being rolled. Excerpts:
What is your views about the regions you oversee?
I have spent 27 years with British Airways, although I spend most of my time in Europe. Five years ago, I moved to Dubai in response to Middle-East traffic. I am very delighted because Africa is a very important region for BA, especially Nigeria is one of our key markets, I am also very happy with the success of British Airways in most of our African markets and starting with Nigeria which is our biggest market in Africa.
New products/Competition with new players
We have been in the Middle-East for sometimes, we were the first airline to fly to the Middle-East, three years ago, we celebrated 80 years of flying into the Middle-East and the past 83 years, we have been growing capacity year-on-year, and in the last five years, we have grown capacity by over 40 percent, we will celebrate 80 years of flying into Nigeria next year, so both in the Middle-East and Africa, we have a long standing relationship in the regions, we have been growing year-on-year, we’ve been pretty successful in these regions. In terms of investment, we’ve been investing in the last 8 years and we keep on investing in new planes in Africa and Middle-East, we are launching our B787-900 on Abu-Dhabi-London route, we will be enhancing our products on Nigerian route, in January we are refurbishing our B747, Club World and World Traveller will be reconfigured and new inflight entertainment. There is quite a long list of enhancements on the regions, we’ve been growing capacity in the past eight years, and these markets are very important to us. Truly, there is a lot of competition, especially in Dubai, which is the biggest in the last five years, we are familiar with competition but we’ve been around for many years, we enjoy competition, we will compete very well having been around for so long.
Between UK and Gulf carriers
There is the open skies policy in place so they can fly as many services as they want into the UK. Still in the UK, we are the most important carrier, we have 70 weekly flights from the UK into the Middle-East, so we are still the biggest carrier. We enjoy competition and we’ve been increasing capacity by over 40 percent in the Middle-east in the past five years.
How do you feel about a Nigerian carrier coming into the route?
We are friends and competitors, competition puts us on our feet, we are thinking and reacting faster, we are thinking of the customers. We just said to Medview good luck and enjoy Gatwick and let the best man win. The world has changed, you can’t be thinking of killing competition, competition makes you better and the customers are better for it but the best man win at the end.
Do you think a lower fare regime will alter your market share on the route?
Any airline that think they can put in ‘arbitrary, unfriendly’ into the business will kill itself. We are not in a business of killing ourselves. Fares remain competitive and are determined by the forces of supply and demands. For instance, we have promotions for Christmas, this year we have sold ridiculous fares. And we use the word seasonality in this business, what you sell in February can’t be sold in July on August, you need to tailor your fares according to the season and classes. There had been references to countries in relation Nigeria, you can’t compare one country to another, and there is nothing in Nigeria that is same as Ghana. We cannot be selective, Nigeria is a mega economy. For instance, this is November, now parents battling with so many issues such as dollar issues, kids are in school, there is nobody on the plane, we do a tactical thing, then we put the product in the market and then sell but don’t come in August which is high season.
What are the challenges that have faced your operations in the past years in Africa?
I was highly impressed, when I moved from Europe to the Middle-East, about the facilities and I can say the same the thing in some of the African countries I have been to. But I think there is still a lot of things they need to enhance by governments. At least it took me minutes to process my visa to Nigeria, there is a lot of improvements.
We have new Ministers on ground, but we have the opportunities to improve more, we can be like Europe, we can highlight all these opportunities to the Minister, he is going to hit the ground running.
Do you think you pay high charges to government in Nigeria?
Government also have cause to levy charges because when you look at the navigational facilities, they are costly but let’s have a levelled playing ground and rules and across whether you are foreign or local airlines, we have to meet our obligations but the experts who knows the costing tell us what we need to pay, as long as same rule applies universally, there is no problem.
Any plan to go into partnership with Nigerian carriers?
At Africa level, we cannot determine who we will partner with unless by our parent company IAG, but locally, we will work with any airline that fits the deal and approved by our parent company. As for BA in Lagos, we still struggle to get seats on Firstclass for passengers.
Where do you see BA in the next five years?
We’ve been around for a long time and we’ve been investing, we will keep investing, in January 2016, four key routes Lagos, Kuwait, Dubai , will get the newly refurbished aircraft, this shows capacity is improving, this means that the demand is very strong. We are increasing frequencies it Dubai by 2016, we are still in the middle of our 5 billion pounds investments in new aircraft, new aircraft and products in general.
Demand is very strong especially in premium class, Nigeria is very healthy, Africa is healthy.
BA has succeeded in commanding the loyalty of the premium travelers, what is the magic wand?
When our CEO came to Lagos, the screaming headline was service is in our DNA, we are proudly serving people. We are not saying things are perfect, but the strength of BA standing low when things go wrong, always there, come rain come shine. Those premium travelers cannot be mistaking, they no stupid, if it is a monopoly and is very expensive, it doesn’t work, if you are not good, you cannot be selling so expensive and you are too expensive the people are not fool that they keep coming, they must have seen something that keep them coming. It is all about the training that people have, the ability of cabin crew and others, that is why we have success story all around.
CSR in Africa
The British are not very good at blowing their own trumpets. CSR is something you should do with social responsivity believing that you really want to give back to the society. you all know about the Leaders of Tomorrow initiative, the reason we did that was to really do something in aviation, that we can have an offshoot of British Airways training, one of them worked for us for a while. You know our involvement in Kuje school, BA installed computers lab, we rebuilt the whole school, they were studying under tree. This aside from the latest which is the On Business programme of supporting the SMEs. The season two of leaders of tomorrow is coming. The SMEs will become conglomerates in the future.