Travel will steadily return, limited by entry restrictions rather than customer confidence, and the industry will get better, says the vice-president of sales, Southeast Asia and South Asia, Qatar Airways.
Options: Qatar Airways has remained in operation throughout the pandemic. Have you have been out among the frontliners this last year?
Jared Lee: Covid-19’s impact on the aviation industry as a whole was unprecedented. Qatar Airways is one of the few airlines that remained in operation throughout the pandemic. During this period, we carried more than 250,000 tonnes of medical supplies and aid, and provided 100,000 and 21,000 free tickets to medical and teaching professionals respectively around the world.
Since February this year, we have flown more than 3.1 million passengers home safely, carrying over 74,000 passengers to and from Malaysia. In fact, we did not stop the Kuala Lumpur-Doha service and continue to provide global connectivity for Malaysian passengers.
What did the airline do to safeguard the well-being of passengers and staff and ensure their peace of mind?
Qatar Airways is the first global airline to achieve the five-star Covid-19 Airline Safety Rating by Skytrax. Our aircraft use industrial-size HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of viral and bacterial contaminants from recirculated air.
We also use Honeywell’s ultraviolet cabin system cleaning technology to treat aircraft seats, surfaces and cabins. UV light has been shown to be capable of inactivating various viruses and bacteria. We also disinfect our aircraft after every flight using products recommended by the International Air Transport Association and the World Health Organization (WHO). We recently launched the zero-touch inflight entertainment system to further enhance passengers’ hygiene.
How has the pandemic affected you personally? What have you learnt most from the lockdowns and major changes around you?
It changed the way we manage the business, from working with the teams remotely from home to how to continue to engage with clients and employees. It also made me appreciate the freedom to travel much more than before and made me realise how interconnected we all are aside from globalisation.
On a personal level, I could see how crucial agility and leadership are to adapt to the changing business environment and keep employees engaged and motivated.
With countries busy rolling out vaccines now, do you feel a sense of optimism in the hospitality industry?
Yes, I really do. I believe the hospitality industry will gradually get better, a few years from now. I believe the various initiatives and changes to be implemented will build the people’s trust in travelling again and will succeed.
We believe travel will steadily return, limited by entry restrictions rather than customer confidence, as most people will want to travel again to meet friends and family. We can also see business and other essential travel restarting in a few countries, even Malaysia, which will help boost the industry.
What do you see happening when people can fly again? How are you preparing to meet demand?
By mid-summer, we plan to rebuild our network to more than 140 destinations, comprising 23 in Africa, 14 in the Americas, 43 in Asia-Pacific, 43 in Europe and 19 in the Middle East. Many cities will be served with a stronger schedule with daily or more frequencies. We are preparing for this increase in demand by ensuring our aircraft are safe for travel.
You left to join the cruise sector in 2016. Why?
I briefly left the company in 2016 and moved to the cruise industry for a change but eventually rejoined Qatar in August 2017 as vice-president for Southeast Asia, as aviation is where my passion is and where better to do it but with the world’s best airline?
You have lived in different countries over the last two decades. Which were the most memorable?
I started my aviation career as a management trainee in 1990 with another airline, where I had postings managing different stations in countries including Hong Kong, Pakistan and Japan. Subsequently, I was moved to handle commercial management and posted to India, Australia and Dubai.
I joined Qatar Airways in 2006 and my key role was to start operations in various countries. My first role was country manager for Japan, and in 2009, I was moved to Australia to start our operations there before going to China in 2010 to open three different stations, in Chongqing, Chengdu and Hangzhou, within two years.
I then moved to Doha in 2014 as vice-president for Africa, where I opened four stations, in Djibouti, Asmara, Zanzibar and Durban, between 2014 and 2016. My most memorable stints were in China, Japan and Africa.
Where is home now? How do you make your living space comfortable or special?
Home is Singapore and the fact that my family is settled here with me makes it more comfortable and special as I really appreciate how my family has been very supportive during the earlier part of my career, when I was posted all over the different continents for 25 years.
When not working, how do you unwind?
Travelling is, by default, my favourite thing to do. At the same time, I’m a foodie at heart who enjoys seeking interesting local food and culture while I travel. I’m also an avid reader and love to read to keep up with current affairs and global trends. Music is another area of interest, and I enjoy good music to relax and unwind.
For most people, travel is a dream. What is the best thing about having a job that allows you to do that all the time?
I feel blessed to be in this job, as both aviation and travelling are my passions. This job has definitely opened up my horizons and brought me to many places to meet many people from all walks of life. Not to mention the career opportunities and cross-cultural exposure it has given me, which is priceless!
This article first appeared on May 24, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.