Can Tigerair change its stripes?

4 July 2013

By David Leo
Aspire Aviation

Koay Peng Yen, Group CEO of Tiger Airways Holding said the Singapore-born and bred budget carrier has been creating synergies between all Tigerair airlines in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines by allowing customers to book connecting flights from any of these carriers. Passengers can connect flights seamlessly in Singapore without clearing immigration or transferring their own luggage.
Budget carrier Tiger Airways has ditched its leaping tiger logo and changed its name to Tigerair. If the proverbial leopard cannot change its spots, is the new Tigerair a different airline?

Changing a name and updating a logo are all part of a corporate game to project a fresh image when the old begins to tire. A whole slew of airlines including Singapore Airlines (SIA), Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways (BA) and United Airlines have done their part molting and face-lifting, the reason most commonly cited being one of keeping up with the times and be contemporary. So, in the words of Tigerair Australia chief executive Robert Sharp, the initiative is part of a bid to bring the airline into a “new era”.

For all that may be said about how the new logo and name embody the key elements of Tigerair’s personality which is “warm, passionate and genuine”, or that according to Tigerair Group chief executive Koay Peng Yen in Singapore they project the carrier’s “commitment towards a better and bolder Tigerair”, the truth is that Tigerair badly needs an image makeover.

The airline has suffered from complaints about flight delays and cancellations, a lack of compassion and poor customer service. Its Australian offshoot, which has not turned in a profitable performance in all its six years of operations, languished under a tarnished image when in 2011, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) grounded its entire fleet over concerns of safety. Tigerair was also beaten by rival Jetstar as the best low-cost carrier in Australia in a recent Skytrax survey. Outside Australia, Tigerair also faces stiff competition from Jetstar as well as AirAsia.

Image Courtesy of James Morgan

One cannot be sure about what Sharp meant when he said of the new Tigerair: “We’re a real airline for real people.” However, he came closest to scratching beneath the surface of the truth when he asserted that the change was “more than just a fresh coat of paint and a new logo” but “the start of the revival of our airline.” Although he was referring specifically to the carrier’s Australian set-up, the change which will entail more emphasis on customer service is as applicable in the wider context of Tigerair’s operations. Clearly more needs to be done as pointed out by critics and sceptics on the internet, that unless the carrier visibly improves its services, the makeover is only skin-deep.

The new Tigerair without its stripes must be a new airline guided by a new service philosophy or the renewed will and sincerity to deliver on promises in order to rein in the competition. If Singapore Airlines were tardy in realising this, Virgin Australia which acquired a 60% stake in the Australian outfit last year and approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) only in April this year found the timing opportune for change. You cannot discount that Virgin’s acquisition might have been the catalyst for the logo and name change to signal a new beginning. Virgin could from now on as a majority shareholder steer the new entity without the trappings and frailty of a damaged past.

Tigerair’s very own experience since inception has shown that having a successful parent is no guarantee of similar success down the line. One must not forget that Tigerair is after all a low-cost carrier that plays by a different set of rules and SIA’s forte is premium travel, when alluding to that relationship.

Interestingly, when Tiger Airways was incorporated in 2003 and commenced operations a year later, many observers thought its leaping tiger logo was an inevitable hark-back to the flying tiger of the old Malayan Airways and successor Malaysia-Singapore Airlines in which SIA claims its roots before Singapore and Malaysia split ways to operate their own flag carriers. Call it nostalgia, perhaps, or a clever ruse to reclaim birth rights. Whether it was deliberate or incidental, for reasons that one could only speculate, it is seldom that one can live the same dream in all its exactitude twice. It is time to construct a new one.

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