The Tata-Singapore Airlines joint venture full-service carrier Vistara is seeing a consistent return in demand for air travel.

In an interview with BusinessLine , Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer, Vistara, shares his thoughts on the growth leverages, trends in the aviation industry and destinations that may see traffic in the new year. Excerpts:

What is your outlook for the industry in 2022?

Confidence in air travel steadily grew over the past six months resulting in a consistent return of demand, specifically in the domestic market. We observed a gradual recovery of demand in international travel too.

Is the worst behind us?

With the new variant of the Covid-19 virus outbreak, there is a drop in overall bookings, more noticeable in the international segment. We are closely monitoring the situation and continue to be cautious in our approach. We remain optimistic about the future and hope that the situation stabilises soon for the industry to move on the path to recovery.

What are the main goals of the company for 2022?

Despite challenges during the pandemic, we stayed firm on our long-term expansion plan and grew our network and global footprint. We see great potential for long-haul direct flights from India.

We started operations to/from 10 international destinations including London Heathrow, Dhaka, Doha, Frankfurt, Sharjah, Malé, Tokyo, Paris, Singapore and Colombo under air bubble arrangements. We are gearing up to add new destinations to our network as soon as possible.

We are constantly ramping up our fleet, which will be an integral part of our expansion plans for the coming year. Currently, we have 51 aircraft, and we expect to have close to 70 by 2023.

Due to the safety guidelines, some of our services have been truncated. We are looking at new approaches to strengthen our service delivery.

How is your company planning through uncertainty?

The initial lockdowns had major financial implications on our business, however, in the face of the challenging environment, we continued to stay nimble, capitalising on every viable opportunity that came across.

We have effectively leveraged commercial cargo and international charter business which augmented our revenues. This has helped us to not only survive but to gain market insights and prepare for the future. We continue to look for new avenues and to make the most of such opportunities.

What trends can the industry watch out for in 2022?

Covid-19 has accelerated the usage of various new technologies such as AI, ML, RPA, Biometrics, etc., to transform the conventional way of travelling and provide customers with a contactless and seamless flying experience. Vistara introduced several tech-enabled processes to minimise physical contact between customers and staff.

Scan & fly, self-tagging, self-boarding, e-gates, biometrics/face recognition, e-boarding passes, and bag tags are all touchless solutions that have helped make air travel safer and get passengers to repose their trust in flying. We see these technologies evolving and becoming a norm going forward.

Further, travellers have been gravitating towards non-stop, direct flights, especially on long-haul routes. This is mainly due to avoiding the risk of contracting the virus in transit, constantly changing travel guidelines, quarantine rules etc. This trend is likely to continue in 2022.

Another noteworthy trend we observe is that a significantly larger number of people make their travel bookings within 10-15 days of travel. This is primarily because people want to be sure of travelling given the evolving situation, Covid restrictions, requirements related to RT-PCR tests etc.