By Saloni Gopani:
The United Nations Young Changemaker’s Conclave (UNYCC) is in conversation with Mr Arun Pandeya, India Head and General Manager, Air Canada. Air Canada is Canada’s largest domestic and international airline serving more than 200 airports in six continents. Canada’s flag carrier is among the 20 largest airlines in the world and serves more than 41 million customers each year. Air Canada collaborated with UNYCC 2018, as an Associate Partner. Mr Arun expresses some rather interesting insights into the “relations between India and Canada” and the “future of the travel industry”.
Q: Right Honourable Justin Trudeau’s first state visit to India recently was viewed by the international community as a significant advancement between two great democracies of the world, with landmark agreements in critical areas like counter-terrorism and nuclear energy. The face-to-face meetings between business leaders from both countries were also a big boost. In what ways do you see the two economies supporting each other and growing together?
Arun Pandeya (AP): India and Canada have a very intense state of economic engagement. The important thing is, it is in various sectors which are important both for India and Canada. Just to give you an example, clean technology is a big priority for India, and Canada is also an expert in clean tech. Oil, gas and energy is another sector that the two countries are pro-actively engaged with and are increasing their relations in. So there are joint ventures, there are opportunities emerging – and that’s the second sector.
The third sector in which Canada is already very well entrenched and has a huge presence is agriculture. So the cereal that we eat here (in India) – it may come as a surprise, or it may not – is imported from Canada. The government of India has a priority on food security, and Canada is aware of that and would like to meet (it). Then there is infrastructure – the building of roads, rail infrastructure, rail-signalling systems, which is very much required by the government of India. So there are several companies that are coming in these areas to India – and there are several that are in the pipeline and trying to see where the opportunities emerge and where they can make a very positive business and economic contribution. So, this is so far as key sectors are concerned.
Q: That said, you mentioned multiple sectors like tech, energy, oil, etc. And looking at how all of these are related to the aviation industry as well, how would Indo-Canada relations work out in favour of the aviation industry in both the countries in the long run?
AP: Air Canada now has a significant investment in India. There are routes that we are operating directly non-stop – with the 787 Dreamliners 900, a state-of-the-art, fantastic product, 297-seater, with 3-cabin configurations (international business class, premium economy and economy class).
So in the aviation sector, Air Canada has started flights, which are non-stop from Toronto to Delhi – daily flights. We have a Vancouver to Delhi service, which runs four times a week, and in different months, it goes up. In addition, we have four flights a week, which run from Toronto to Mumbai. So that’s another sector we are servicing.
Now, when you look at Air Canada as a company that is heavily invested in these aircrafts and is starting these routes in India, it is a significant investment, and it has helped in bringing the two countries closer and faster because of the non-stop flights. Now having said that, this has also brought a lot of ease in travelling for businesses in India, and vice-versa. Then, there is the need for visiting friends and relatives, the student segment – which is a big segment and is growing very very fast, and then you have the leisure segment. Canadian tourism is flourishing and it has recently seen double-digit growth.
In addition, there are many companies related to aviation and software, and to various aspects of the aviation industry – and they are getting very engaged in India now. So, moving forward, I have a very good feeling that many many aviation companies will start engaging too. It all synergises very well with the Government of India’s aviation policies, which have opened out to an extent where there is a lot of ease of doing business in this sector. That will benefit in the form of jobs in both countries, it will benefit in the form of good trade between the two countries – and it will also benefit, finally, in the process of technology, which is what the Govt. of India wants. It doesn’t want imports only, it also wants to have a good engagement with the concept of “Make In India”.
Q: Like you mentioned, Air Canada has recently launched a couple of direct services like Vancouver to New Delhi, Toronto to New Delhi etc. Considering how you explained the potential boost for aviation between the 2 countries, does Air Canada have any plans to further increase its presence in the ever-growing Indian markets?
AP: You know the way Air Canada works is, we start by establishing the flights in a particular destination. Once that flight gets settled in terms of its operations, then we start looking at other opportunities. Very importantly, it also depends on the aircraft. We are doing direct, non-stop services. So let us say, if there is another point India would like to be serviced, it would all depend on what kind of aircraft it can deploy, the availability of that aircraft, the feasibility of flying that aircraft.
So, it’s not an easy decision to open up a destination in any country, to open up to a city in any county. But, suffice to say, Air Canada has consistently been looking at newer destinations – and once they feel that now we have all the ingredients required for a successful operation in a particular city, then we will plan to operate in that city.
Q: A large section of the Indian student population has chosen Canada as a good higher education destination. So, what progress areas do you think airline companies can service to ease the entire process of living in Canada, for Indian students?
AP: With the non-stop direct flights, a student who goes to study, from Delhi or in Bombay, whether to Toronto or Vancouver – it cannot get easier than that. Canada has seen a progression in the student segment. This year they are projecting that there will be a 100% increase in the student community that will go to study at all levels, not only for higher studies but even for the undergraduate level. There is this significant growth that is happening and will continue to happen.
In fact, Prime Minister Trudeau is very optimistic that Canada will move from its number three position for good education in the Indian market today, to almost being the number one destination in the next two to three years. I think the community is very happy studying in Canada – language is not a barrier, communities are good, colleges and institutions and universities are top-class, and they can study the course they want to study, it’s not a compromise. When you look at the big picture, all the elements are already there. Even the Canadian universities and institutions are pro-actively coming to India and doing road-shows, attracting students and counselling them, hand-holding them in their pursuit to do education in Canada. I would say this is a growth sector that will continue to grow significantly in the coming years.
Q: In what ways would you see travel re-inventing itself in the next 10 years, considering major progress in technologies like AI and big data?
AP: Technology really is driving travel today. I feel that moving forward, with AI and other tech developments, the customer will have a “Wow” experience when they start to identify a destination to visit. There is already so much information that is available to us in the public domain that it will now move to a position where our likes, dislikes, level of wanting a certain type of product in terms of travel, will already be there for the first time when the customer goes to public domains like Google, Yahoo and other kinds of social media options. So, today too, if I search for a hotel or a flight, and I book it, I start getting bombarded with SEOs that say – “We’ve got a fantastic rate going in Paris.”
I think moving forward, AI and tech will play a very big role in micro-managing the individual needs when they are travelling, to the extent of what kind of food habits we have, what type of holiday we like to take. All this will come at a very micro level, and that will help in the ease of searching and booking for yourself. So I see a role of tech and AI being majorly played out on a daily basis because there are newer things coming out all the time. Every day, we find something new happening in this space, so far as travel is concerned.
Q: Considering the travel industry is going to be majorly re-inventing itself in the future, how would you see young people being impacted by these changes?
AP: It is the younger generation that has come up with ideas and opportunities in the travel industry. I would divide that into two parts.
One is that, globally, travel is one of the biggest industries that provides direct and indirect employment. I’ll give you an example. If you go to Brussels in Belgium, and you go to the centre of the city, you will find that there are youngsters who have formed this community to do ‘free-guiding’ of the city. They will take you on a tour of 1-2 hours, telling you about the city. So they do this guided tour for you and bring you back to the starting point – and it is up to the individual (and not solicited) to give a consideration to this student. Some people give $10, some give $50, and they are very happy. See how indirectly it has given employment to these young people. These young people interact and exchange ideas with the people they are taking on these tours. And this is happening all over the world.
I would say that the tourism industry for the young change-makers and young people who would look at this industry has a tremendous amount of opportunities to engage themselves. This is the sector that provides self-employment to people. You take anything you do in your life, and travel will be a part of it – whether it is running an eating outlet, a resort, etc. because all whom you’re meeting are travellers. It’s a great industry! They are all the real brand ambassadors of their country. You don’t have to be a celebrity to be a brand ambassador for a country. You can simply be a student who is a brand ambassador for your country, because you are meeting people from different parts of the world, and you have interactions with them. Look at the communities we can develop because of this!
Q: Eco-tourism is attracting a lot of attention these days, and ideas seeking renewable aviation fuels are gaining popularity. In your opinion, how viable can something like this prove to be for the aviation industry?
AP: I keep reading on the net and in the news that there are companies experimenting solar operated aircraft, beginning with smaller aircraft, instead of putting in fuel – to power these with solar (energy). There are new inventions that will happen.
I will just take the example of the 787 Dreamliners 900 that we fly – they consume lesser fuel compared to a Jumbo. So if you look at the comparison, there are companies that are manufacturing products and innovating already. The 787 Boeing aircraft is a light aircraft, not heavy, and aerodynamic. They make the components and materials in such a way that the aircraft is light, and if it is light, it consumes lesser fuel and is faster.
Eco-tourism, let me tell you, has now become a very important aspect of tourism. If you go to a hotel, they will write over there, next to the towel in your bathroom, something that talks about water conservation – and they will say ‘x’ amount of detergent has been used in washing your towel. So these are the aspects of ecotourism. Even rooms have become eco-friendly in terms of the wood they use, the furniture or the flooring, etc. So, everything is becoming very eco-friendly and eco-driven because everybody has realised that it is not only about protecting the environment, but it also saves cost in the long run.
Q: Coming to the futuristic travel practices we discussed, whether it’s AI or the experiences of the traveller of the future, how can leading commercial airlines like Air Canada be a contributing factor to the development of modern aeronautics and futuristic travel practices?
AP: Air Canada’s contribution will be connectivity. Flying the right aircraft to the right destination, that is where a company like Air Canada contributes. So we create destinations and contribute to these destinations, because we futuristically see where the growth is. And that is how the aircraft manufacturers are operating. They see where they will require the particular types of aircraft to fly in the next 10 years. They decide today what kind of aircraft will be needed in 10 years. They don’t wait for the destinations to open up and then start manufacturing aircraft. They have a plan about what kind of aircraft would be required for a long haul, short haul, the kind of destinations opening out, airports in these destinations, and how long the air-stretch will be. All this is part of the travel agenda. Newer travel experiences are coming up in exotic places, very small cities and in very small towns. It’s an evolving industry where one sees newer destinations emerging every day. Run-of-the-mill destinations are already blocked, so people are looking for newer experiences.
Q: How would you describe Air Canada’s vision and mission?
AP: We want to be a global player and an international powerhouse.
We want to be able to fulfill the needs of the passengers in terms of their comfort, excellence in service, enhancing the experience of connecting, at our three hubs in Canada – Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and even Calgary. We would like to be very focused on the customers.
Saloni Gopani is a Committee Member of the UNYCC.