AVIATION INTERVIEW WITH JOHNSON FRANCIS
Executive Director of Oscar Holidays
“Johnson Francis comes from humble beginnings but now runs a company with the prestigious position of being the General Sales Agent (GSA) for airlines such as SriLankan Airlines, Kenya Airways and Air Arabia. A gentle and visionary man, Johnson envisions Oscar Holidays to be one of the leading travel companies who would play a significant part of boosting the tourism and aviation industry in Malaysia. Johnson speaks to Airlink about his journey leading Oscar Holidays and why he sees his company continuing its success streak.”
Please tell us more about Oscar Holidays and the company’s history in the tourism and aviation industry.
We were founded in 2008; at the very beginning we focused on being as diverse as possible, this meant Oscar Holidays has been equipped with all the services and skills necessary to provide all the segments of the tourism business. A full-fledged travel agency for example would provide services for inbound and outbound travel, airline ticketing, ground transportation, online travel services, airline representation, as well as arranging business-related travels such as MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Exhibitions).
In 2016, a big milestone came when SriLankan Airlines & Mihin Lanka appointed us to represent them (Mihin Lanka Airways was later merged and absorbed into SriLankan Airlines). 6 months after, we gained another airline when we won the bid to represent Kenya Airways. And finally in December 2018, we won the bid to represent Air Arabia as their GSA in Malaysia, marking our most recent achievement and milestone.
As Executive Director, what are your plans and vision for Oscar Holidays in the upcoming years? Our vision for the next few years is to become one of the leading travel companies in Malaysia and to continue to contribute to the industry and the nation. To do this, we must continue to maintain our diversity, which is our trump card for success. We also pride ourselves in strategic planning for the increase of sales for the airlines that we represent.
For example, when we were appointed by Air Arabia, the initial plan was to launch the inaugural flight from Sharjah to Kuala Lumpur in November this year. However, during the summer holidays, Malaysia sees as much as 180 Arab travellers per flight from the 42 Middle Eastern cities where Air Arabia operates.
Furthermore, on average, travellers from the UAE spend not less than seven nights in Malaysia. It would have been a significant loss of a good opportunity should we have carried out the initial plans. Instead, we now have the first inaugural flight coming in from Sharjah on the 1st of July. Therefore, we are expecting this seasonal performance to bring significant contribution to the Malaysian economy.
Recently, the overall global economy for aviation seems to indicate some difficulty. What are the initiatives that you are implementing to overcome this?
In all the vicissitudes of business, there will always be trying times; however we have consistently increased our revenue with every passing year since our inception. For example, in 2017, we grew our revenue by 10%. And in 2018, we grew our revenue by 15%. This year, we expect to record a similar growth rate of 16%. This indicates that our approach to garner sales is able to offset the current economic circumstances and bring in significant profit for our partners.
One of the primary factors that contribute to our success is that our services are very personalised. This means that we always maintain open communication with our partners and customers. In contrast to the usual airlines business, the personalised touch that we work hard to provide gives us a better grip on the market. Additionally, we ensure that our pricing strategies are on point. In other words, we always make sure that we sell the airline tickets at the right place based on demand and supply.
All in all, we are always in search of business opportunities; despite any form of complications, we are always determined and forward-striving.
What are your market strategies to promote sales and to achieve targets set by the airlines you represent?
There are two main aspects that an airline requires from their GSA: cost efficiency and good sales. Thus, what we do to realise these objectives is to execute cost-effective yet competitive business strategies and personalising our marketing campaigns. Additionally, we tailor our initiatives based on market intelligence reports; by doing this we are able to find the most appropriate action to increase our sales according to market trends.
Furthermore, we achieve our targets by widening our distribution channel. At Oscar Holidays, we are very open to engaging as many travel agencies as possible. To increase awareness, we often advertise that travellers can buy directly from their preferred travel agent or airline website. Our goal is to make the airlines we represent as accessible as possible to potential customers.
Please tell us more about your experience with Air Arabia.
Besides the premium planes that Air Arabia possesses, I can personally testify to the efficiency that this airlines has. During the bidding process of obtaining our appointment, the process only took over a month to complete. An open tender at this scale, often requires multiple stages, as the airline had to filter through the potential companies that they invited for the process. We also had to fly into the UAE to participate in the interview after being shortlisted. Within a few weeks, we received the call of our successful appointment. Since then, their efficiency and communication has been exceptional. Whenever we required approval for our marketing campaigns, they always responded within two to three hours.
The city of Sharjah is the central hub for Air Arabia; what are the exciting destinations in Sharjah that would be of interest to Malaysian travellers?
A city in the UAE on the Arabian Gulf, Sharjah is considered the nation’s cultural capital and is only 30 minutes drive away from the city centre of Dubai. The city contains a ‘Heritage Area’ filled with restored homes and museums devoted to Emirati customs. Additionally, it’s home to Sharjah Fort, a 19th century royal residence turned into a local history museum. On the other hand, there’s an ‘Arts Area’ that includes the Sharjah Art Museum, displaying contemporary Arabian and 18th century Orientalist works. For shopping enthusiasts, the massive, blue-tiled Central Market is the perfect destination with more than 600 stores. For families, the Sharjah Aquarium, the Corniche waterfront promenade, and the Eye of Emirates (a 60m tall observation wheel) are ideal places for Malaysians to experience the UAE.
What do you think about the unique selling points of Air Arabia?
I believe Air Arabia is one of the best low-cost airlines to come to Malaysian shores from the Middle East. Air Arabia has for example, a large connectivity network of 170 cities in more than 50 countries and that they possess long-range planes in their fleet such as the Airbus A321LR that are able to fly beyond
the 7-hour mark. This is not to mention that the A321LR has 32 inches of leg space and that Air Arabia offers 30kg of complimentary baggage allowance and 10kg hand-carry allowance even though their prices are very competitive.
For example, a traveller can book a flight to Dubai at the cost of RM1,700 and below. Also, Air Arabia does not compete directly with the other airlines that we represent.
This is why we believe that we cannot go wrong with the current business model that we and our partner airlines share.
What is it about the aviation industry that drives your passion for it?
As the aviation industry is an international sphere, it is the perfect launching point for a company into the global arena. In Malaysia, there are over 5000 travel agencies, but only less than 30 have been appointed by airlines as GSAs. This means, being one of the travel companies that has reached this level is a prestigious position to be in. Currently, we are representing two national carriers: Kenya Airways and SriLankan Airlines. The appointment by airlines of their stature is a wonderful endorsement of recognition for Oscar Holidays.
On the other hand, we have also signed a partnership with Lidl – a German global discount supermarket chain. This contract will allow us to promote Malaysia as an attractive travel destination to European customers within their stores. This will also significantly increase sales and visitor volume to Malaysia. Additionally, this is also a very cost effective method for our airline partners in increasing their exposure to other markets.
Thus, the honour of having achieved this for my company is a pleasure in itself and is a powerful drive for me to keep striving for excellence.