45 YEARS OF BRUNEIAN HOSPITALITY

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Published on November 03, 2019 with No Comments

Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, Royal Brunei has come a long way since its first flight. Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah, Chairman of Royal Brunei Board of Directors shares with MUHIBAH the impact the national carrier has made to the country and its people.

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“When Royal Brunei Airlines first started, we operated based on two aircraft flying to four cities in the region – Singapore, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Hong Kong followed by Bangkok and Manila later. In the 90s, we started our long-haul flights to London and other cities in Australia. We continue to operate in these cities and over time, we also expanded into other destinations. Today, 45 years later, we now serve 30 different destinations,” says Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah, Chairman of Royal Brunei Board of Directors.

“It is not just the increase of destinations or upgrading of our fleet of aircraft that marks the highlights of the 45 years of history for our national carrier. Our services are also significant features of the airlines. In many ways, Royal Brunei Airlines is an ambassador for the country. We are often the first point of contact for visitors wishing to travel to Brunei. Therefore, the extension of our Bruneian hospitality and culture are also key in delivering that impactful first impression to our passengers,” he adds.

The national carrier also benefited tourism in Brunei. “Since Royal Brunei’s expansion of network destinations, tourists that arrived in 2018 in Brunei Darussalam was around 278,000, a 4.1 percent increase in total tourist arrivals compared to the same time period in 2017,” says Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin.

MUHIBAH speaks to Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin on more of these pivotal moments and the impact Royal Brunei Airlines has made on the whole over its 45 years.

Congratulations on the 45-year anniversary. Over the years, Royal Brunei has hit some significant milestones. What are some recent ones the airline is most proud of?
Royal Brunei provides connectivity for the population, for tourists, and also for trade between Brunei and oversea countries. At the same time, we provide good employment for our people; today, our workforce comprises of over 90 percent locals. On top of that, we were recently awarded the 4-Star Skytrax Award and 5-Star APEX (Airline Passenger Experience Association, a network of the world’s leading airlines, suppliers and related companies committed to elevating the level of the airline passenger experience, the US equivalent of Skytrax), which reflect the continuous improvement of Royal Brunei in ensuring we stay relevant and competitive.

Aviation is a fiercely competitive and challenging industry. Many airlines are facing challenges and Royal Brunei is no different. However, with the leadership of His Majesty, the Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam through cooperation and teamwork among various stakeholders, we have been able to continue the good work through the years.

The awards we have recently received are due recognition by the industry and our customers. These reflect our improved services, the renewed aircraft fleet, inflight services and also the facilities we provide at the Brunei International Airport. All these count towards what we have achieved in recent years, which would not have been possible without the foundation that was built over the last 45 years ago.

What has been Royal Brunei’s vision since day one and how has this influenced the way it operates today?
We are the first point of contact for visitors to Brunei. Our services, the Bruneian hospitality, the culture and the manner in which we deliver this first impression, these are all important aspects of our operation. What is important is we provide a safe, reliable, commercially viable world-class boutique airline with a more personalised service to the customer based on our rich cultural heritage.

Everything we do is, in fact, a reflection of Bruneian culture. This is how we live our lives and this is extended to the service we deliver on our flights. Our customer-service experience is based on our culture, which makes it a unique selling proposition. What we wish to leave with our passengers is an experience that they have received a best-in-class service at an affordable price. We must also not forget the support from our Bruneian passengers – without them, we would have never made it to this point.

How is Royal Brunei different?
In this region, there are a large number of low-cost carriers operating and grabbing market share by offering cheaper tickets with a lower-frills approach. Royal Brunei is still a full-fledged full-serviced airline, so we already offer a different product and will continue to offer competitive prices to our customers. We will continue to look at ways to upgrade and improve our aircraft and services. It is the whole experience, that is from when you arrive at the airport to the check-in counter and then through to the terminal, boarding the aircraft and finally arriving at your destination.

Looking back at the past 45 years, how would you say the airline has transformed?
We have undergone the re-fleeting of our aircraft over phases in the last few years. If you look at our fleet of 14 aircraft, the average age is quite low. Today, Royal Brunei is one of the youngest new generation fleet in this region. One thing we should feel really proud of is with the new generation fleet of aircraft, we are able to optimise our operations in terms of fuel savings, seats comfort and layout, engine efficiency with reduced noise and CO₂ emissions. We are able to fly to destinations we believe will help with the performance of our business and at the same time, attract more visitors to Brunei Darussalam thereby promoting tourism in the country.

Royal Brunei continues to be an increasingly efficient, commercially viable, safe and reliable world-class airline, dedicated to total quality in our operations and to continuously exceed customer expectations. The new generation of Airbus and Boeing aircraft brings a new set of systems and tools that further enhance the overall experience. For example, the new touchscreens on the A320 NEO, the window dimming system on the B787 Dreamliner – are certainly more advanced than our previous range of aircraft.

Our other touchpoints have undergone significant overhauls as well. We have a friendlier user-interface on our website. We now support expanded languages on the platform. We also have improved flight displays and airport information. Furthermore, we have introduced new services at Brunei International Airport to enhance our guest’s end-to-end experience, such as premium lanes at our counters, fast-track security and immigration clearance. As for our premium customers, we have also upgraded the Sky Lounge.

At the end of the day, it is very important to ensure that strategically, Royal Brunei continues to be relevant and sustainable going forward.

Royal Brunei recently introduced the RB Link initiative to take its business forward within the region. Can you tell us more about it?
RB Link is a very good initiative towards making Brunei Darussalam a hub for the island of Borneo. With RB Link, we make it easier for passengers in Borneo wanting to travel to towns and cities within Borneo and they can also connect to Royal Brunei’s international destinations using Brunei as their hub. Prior to RB Link, you would have to fly to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or even to Jakarta and then find a flight to Sibu, Kuching, Tawau or Sandakan. Then there are passengers from Sandakan, Tawau, Sibu and Kuching wanting to travel to other cities in North Asia, ASEAN, Australia or the UK – they can now look at Brunei as the transit point. With this initiative, we are not limited to passengers who only want to come to Brunei but also passengers who want to go to other cities outside of Borneo, as well as other cities within Borneo.

The introduction of RB Links to the current seven target cities of Sibu, Bintulu, Kuching, Balikpapan, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and Sandakan, has the potential to boost connectivity within the BIMP-EAGA and ASEAN region. This connectivity will not only provide spillovers to the Bruneian economy vis-à-vis tourist arrivals but is also a platform for our local entrepreneurs to take their businesses outside of Brunei to these markets. This will collectively provide significant benefits to the Brunei economy as a whole.

On top of that, RB Link flights will support our network development, the national objective of delivering half a million visitors to our shores by 2021 and this translates potentially to additional revenue for the various stakeholders in the tourism and other service industries.

Royal Brunei plays an important role in connectivity, tourism and trade. Have the goals been met, and what else can the airlines and various stakeholders do together?
To have a successful tourism industry in Brunei Darussalam, it requires the combined efforts of various stakeholders. It is not just about making sure that Royal Brunei flies to all the various destinations in its network but it is also the ongoing efforts by Brunei Tourism in making sure our country is attractive for tourists to visit. The private sector also needs to step in, to come up with innovative and interesting packages. Marketing and promotional efforts are definitely still required since Brunei Darussalam and indeed, Borneo is relatively unexplored and still has plenty of “unexpected treasures” to offer. Everyone plays a role in supporting the aim to create a better and sustainable tourism industry for the country.

In the past year, we have coordinated with Brunei Tourism on a destination marketing campaign, an effort that included active interaction with the private sector and numerous local small and medium enterprises to develop the branding and product offering of Brunei. The major travel agents and hotels in Brunei also contributed significantly to this effort.

Can you share about Royal Brunei as an employer and the opportunities it has – and will provide?
Like any company, Royal Brunei strives to offer the right package for our employees so that what they do is not just a job for them, so that they come to work every day feeling proud that they work for a company like Royal Brunei. We believe we have built up an environment within the company with career paths where they feel they are actually contributing to the success of the company.

Everyone has a role to play to ensure that the company continues to be more successful. We will continuously train our people and give them the opportunity to upgrade their skills at work. For starters, our Young Entrepreneur Programme enables pathways for our people to improve their skills so that they can have a better future in the company. We will continue to develop our human capital. Today, we hire more than 90 percent locals, and one day some will step up to take on bigger responsibilities and the opportunities are there for the locals. These are some of the aspirations we hold at Royal Brunei.

Essentially, we aim to continue to maintain a corporate environment, providing a structure that will nurture and encourage staff career development towards a brighter future for both the individual and the airline.

Looking back, what would you say is the single proudest achievement for Royal Brunei?
There are many things we are proud of. But the one thing I am most proud of is the development of our people into managers, engineers, pilots and many other roles within the company at internationally recognised standards. This will provide long-lasting impact not just to the company but also to the country, especially within the aviation business. We have more than 1,500 employees. To be able to develop them into the standards we are seeing today, it is something we are proud of.

I would like to thank His Majesty for his leadership that has enabled Royal Brunei to achieve what we have achieved thus far. There is also our Board Members who work closely with me. Together with the senior management of Royal Brunei, we have been able to align our strategies and vision, and continue to improve the operations of the airline and to achieve our strategic objectives over time.

What can we look forward to from Royal Brunei?
We will continue to respond to the market. In the aviation industry, there are always new challenges. Competition is stiff. We will continue to develop our people, the single most important asset of the company. We will continue to look at what further improvements we need to make to the products and services we provide. We will continue to work with the authority, for example, the Department of Civil Aviation to further improve our passengers’ experience on the ground.

What is your key message to our readers (and travellers) about Royal Brunei and Brunei?
I will say, let Royal Brunei be your gateway into Borneo and more importantly, your safe carrier into the ‘Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures’. It is also, and always will be, Royal Brunei’s honour to provide this service to all our travellers, whether they are coming to Brunei, or travelling out of Brunei. Be it in London, Melbourne, Beijing or elsewhere, or the destinations Royal Brunei will be flying to in the future, we aspire to deliver the utmost excellence in customer experience, in our own Bruneian way.

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