A Magazine for airline executives
2016 Issue No. 4

Cutover In Paradise

Air Seychelles Extends Legacy Of Service By Upgrading Technology

When Air Seychelles partnered with Sabre in 2014 for a new customer-service system, many Sabre team members secretly (or not so secretly) wished to be part of this effort. After all, very few places in the world inspire a vision of paradise on earth as the Seychelles. Of course, all client locations represent an opportunity to discover rich new environments. But there was a palpable excitement from going to a place so sought after, in short, a dream destination. Furthermore, Air Seychelles was excited about the prospect of upgrading to new capabilities, in line with its aspirations. The set was being staged for a cutover in paradise.

Among the most beautiful island destinations in the world, the Republic of Seychelles has played host to some of the world’s most famous people, who are drawn to its enticing beaches and coves.

Serving this island archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean some 300 miles (480 kilometers) to 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) off the eastern coast of Africa, is Air Seychelles, a boutique airline that started flying in 1978 and began long-haul service in 1983.

The economic lifeblood of the Seychelles, which consists of approximately 115 islands (many of them uninhabited), flows largely through Air Seychelles. Tourism is the No. 1 driver of the Seychelles economy, followed by agriculture.

To enhance and improve its ability to serve its customers, Air Seychelles, in 2012, became a strategic partner of Etihad Airways, an arrangement that affords Air Seychelles customers direct access to Etihad Airways Partner’s extensive global network of destinations and flight frequencies, effectively extending the Air Seychelles scope and range around the world.

Keeping up its end of the equation has entailed considerable upgrading of Air Seychelles systems, including a customer service system that has now been updated to the best and latest technology.

Air Seychelles CEO Roy Kinnear’s philosophy to ensure all employees are equipped with the required skills to operate new technology is to “train, train again, check and then refresh the training.”

The Seychelles

As a tourist destination, the Seychelles will forever intrigue.

Approximately 90 percent of the Seychelles total population of around 90,000 lives on the main island, Mahé, where the capital city Victoria is located. On the island of Praslin are another 6,500 inhabitants. Much smaller, the third most populated island is La Digue, which does not have an airport and is accessible only by sea.

Together, the three islands represent the cultural and economic hub of the Seychelles, and are home not only to some of the world’s most stunningly beautiful beaches, but also serve as a natural habitat for exotic wildlife and vegetation.

Throughout most of recorded history, the Seychelles were, for the most part, uninhabited.

The earliest recorded ship landing in the Seychelles was in 1609. Becoming a transit point in trade between Africa and Asia, the islands were occasionally occupied by pirates until the French Navy began to assert some level of control in the mid-18th century.

Great Britain assumed control of the islands from 1794 to 1810, then, it retained nominal control of the Seychelles until 1976, when independence was granted to the islands as a republic within the British Commonwealth.

In the 1970s, the Seychelles evolved to become “the place to be seen,” a figurative playground for the rich and famous, from film stars to other members of the international jet set.

It’s a well-established fact that the “Seychellois” people tend to welcome visitors from all over the world.

Traditionally, the islands have attracted a broad diversity of people from around the world, including African and European settlers, adventurers, traders of Arab and Persian origin, as well as numerous people of all backgrounds and occupations from China, India and the nether reaches of Asia.

The Seychellois people comprise a colorful blend that, throughout history, has brought to the Seychelles their diverse traditions, culture and religion, contributing to a vibrant Seychellois culture.

The Seychelles exhibit a warm, inviting and relatively stable climate overall.

Despite the growth of tourism, farming and fishing continue as significant sources of revenue, as do industries that process coconuts and vanilla, among the nation’s primary agricultural products.

Mahé is a relatively large island with a mountainous, forested interior and almost countless beaches, bays and coves. Visitors can also find waterfalls, jungles, mountain trails and stunning viewpoints, with a host of activities from rock climbing to sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving.

A 15-minute flight from Mahé on one of the Air Seychelles Twin Otters, a more laid back, Praslin has a championship golf course, and the island boasts what are broadly renowned and recognized as being among the most enchanting and pristine ocean beaches in the world.

Based in the exotic island archipelago of the Republic of Seychelles, Air Seychelles partnered with Sabre to implement robust reservations and web check-in technology, resulting in enhanced customer experience, as well as increased revenues. A worldwide sought after vacation destination, Seychelles is known for its pristine beaches and exotic wildlife and vegetation.

Air Seychelles

Air Seychelles operates more than 30 flights per day to Praslin, bringing tourists from Mahé and its international airport to play golf and bask on Praslin’s internationally acclaimed beaches.

It’s not difficult to grasp how important Air Seychelles is to the economy of the country, as well as to the day-to-day life of its residents. Furthermore, Air Seychelles often provides the first taste of the Seychelles to countless visitors, who get to experience the warmth of the country as soon as they board the aircraft.

Air Seychelles describes itself as “a boutique island carrier offering Indian Ocean access for its partner airlines,” and the future appears to belong to the airline, having received a prestigious four-star rating from Skytrax, as well as being cited for Leading Airline, Leading Cabin Crew, Leading Business Class and Leading Economy Class in the Indian Ocean among the 2016 World Travel Awards.

“Our goal is to be a sustainable, profitable, high-quality airline,” said Air Seychelles Chief Executive Officer Roy Kinnear. “Air Seychelles seeks to reflect the best of Creole hospitality, culture and values by treating our guests with unique Creole warmth.”

Air Seychelles offers international flights to Abu Dhabi, Antananarivo, Beijing, Johannesburg, Mauritius, Mumbai and Paris, and the carrier operates daily scheduled domestic flights to Praslin and charter services throughout the Seychelles archipelago.

Air Seychelles offers international flights to Abu Dhabi, Antananarivo, Beijing, Johannesburg, Mauritius, Mumbai and Paris, as well as daily domestic flights and charter services throughout the archipelago. Its network is further extended by a comprehensive network of codeshare destinations.

The Big Switch

Recently, Air Seychelles partnered with Sabre to upgrade its reservations and departure-control systems. Such an endeavor is significant and requires that all parties, at Air Seychelles and Sabre, work very closely together for several months. An important project was kicked off, and the two companies embarked together to change systems at the very heart of the airline.

For example, implementation of SabreSonic Customer Sales & Service and SabreSonic Web has enabled Air Seychelles to vastly enhance its guest experience and revenue, as well as its overall operating efficiency. The solutions enable the airline to exploit new revenue streams through the sale of ancillaries, a reduction of passenger check-in time, an increase in online sales, as well as the use of self-service and automation. It also enhances connectivity with partner airlines through codeshare and interline agreements.

The project was initiated in August 2015, and the “Big Switch” (as Air Seychelles labeled it) took place in March 2016.

Every day during the project, the Air Seychelles team demonstrated its passion and enthusiasm for both airline and country. The passion was critical in compensating for the lean nature of the team. Staff and executives alike pitched in to ensure the success of the project, and the order givers were also, in many cases, the actual doers.

The project required quick adaptation to the new reality. Numerous team members were expert users of the previous system, used in isolation from current industry practices, posing certain challenges to transition to a new system.

Success wouldn’t have been possible without the “all-in” Air Seychelles approach, from the CEO to the frontline team. Moreover, project risks were constantly monitored and addressed.

The relatively petite team size was nicely geared to ensure efficient operations (the small size of the team was also one of the keys to the success of the program).

In partnership with Etihad Airways and Sabre, Air Seychelles completed significant technological upgrades, called The Big Switch, resulting in new revenue streams such as increased ancillary sales, reduced passenger check-in times and increased online sales.

“With a close team, working many years together, each wearing many hats, we knew not only our own areas very well but that of our teammates also,” said Air Seychelles Sabre Project Director Alan Renaud, a 12-year veteran with the company. “We had a deep understanding of the business and the company culture. This knowledge, combined with the excellent onsite support we received from Sabre and our partner Etihad Airways, from where we could draw additional resources as challenges were encountered, helped us complete the project successfully.”

A significant contributor to the ultimate success of the cutover was Etihad Airways. Having experienced its own cutover to SabreSonic CSS in 2013, the airline had developed considerable expertise with the tools and practices in key areas including reservations, airport check-in and e-commerce, and it was able to share its knowledge and experience with the Air Seychelles team.

Etihad pitched in willingly to support its partner airline, and a team of Etihad’s experts made the trip to the Seychelles and worked alongside Air Seychelles to ensure that the cutover was the least disruptive as possible to the airline’s guests and employees.

Critical areas including training, testing and implementation were well-supported by the combined Air Seychelles/Etihad team of experts onsite before, during and after cutover, ensuring a smooth transition.

Air Seychelles CEO Kinnear offered his primary tips for successfully achieving a SabreSonic cutover in paradise, including an admonition to alert the entire airline to prepare for the cutover.

Air Seychelles CEO Roy Kinnear celebrates “The Big Switch” with the airline’s airport team.

“Whilst our preparation work has been carried out to the highest degree, we all need to remain vigilant and aware that unexpected items may, and probably will occur,” he said to the airline’s employees. “We need to remain composed, calm and bear in mind that our full focus should remain on providing a smooth guest experience throughout the transition whilst we manage through the cutover behind the scenes. I believe in each one of you and us as a team and am confident that together we will deliver this project successfully.”

Kinnear also recommended concentrating on what is important to guests, and remember that back-office functions don’t have to be perfect at cutover. They will fall into place quickly. Measurement is critical, but the No. 1 objective is to always cherish guests, because they don’t know or care about the stress of the cutover, and they are simply trying to enjoy their vacation.

And when it came time to ensure all employees were armed with the necessary skills to run the new technology, Kinnear had a philosophy that worked.

“Train, train again, check and then refresh the training,” he said. “Once this new technology beds-in in the weeks ahead, the employees’ focus would shift to fast-follower items taking the new system technology forward and introducing more new features, such as Web check-in; a more appealing and easier-to-use website user interface; smoother and more efficient check-in of guests; setting a solid base for the next phase of the airline’s development.”

Left to right: Joel Morgan, chairman and minister for Foreign Affairs and Tourism; Alan Renaud, Air Seychelles program director; Roy Kinnear, Air Seychelles CEO; and Jim Steinmark, vice president, strategic clients gather during The Big Switch.

The bottom line, of course, is that the guests always come first.

The combination of Sabre’s “A” team, Etihad’s subject matter experts and Air Seychelles’ business owners collectively contributed to a 24/7 command center operation that oversaw the tracking and management of system implementation.

And the result … an incredibly successful cutover with no priority 1 or priority 2 issues arising, and an outcome that reflects the high degree of preparation, planning and cutover monitoring.

Joel Morgan, chairman of Air Seychelles and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Transport for the Republic of Seychelles, visited the Air Seychelles Sabre command center with airline executives after the Big Switch.

“For an airline the size of Air Seychelles to have completed a major technology change of this size with the speed at which it did so is a testament to both the caliber of the staff and its ‘can-do’ attitude,” he said.

Morgan’s sentiments are also a reflection of how important Air Seychelles is to the nation, because it is an Air Seychelles tenet that visitors enter a little bit of paradise the moment they climb onboard.