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Sudiarto Sugito: “As a foreign business operating in Thailand, there is nothing we can do about the uncertainties caused by the political situation.”

Garuda Indonesia’s GM for Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia talks about his job and Indonesia’s marvels.

by Laurence Civil

Previously based at the head office in Jakarta, Sudiarto Sugito, Garuda Indonesia’s general manager for Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, moved to Bangkok 6 months ago to take up his new position at the height of the political protests. Not exactly the best of times to move here, yet he remains excited by the challenges he faces in this market.

“I am focused on business travel between Bangkok and Jakarta,” he says. “On this route we have an equal split between the number of Thai and Indonesian passengers travelling. No matter what happens, this sector of the market has no choice than to keep going despite the uncertainties caused by the political situation.”

“My job is first to promote Indonesia as the destination,” he says, “then the route network offered by Garuda Indonesia. We currently operate three round-trip flights daily between Jakarta and Bangkok, operating the Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which has business and economy classes on board. We had planned to introduced a fourth round-trip flight between the two cities, but that has been put on hold as we wait for the situation in Bangkok to stabilize.”

“As a foreign business operating in Thailand,” he continues, “there is nothing we can do about the uncertainties caused by the political situation. It’s completely beyond our control. Luckily, we have seen only a 3 percent decline in inbound business. What I have noticed is that on arrival, passengers are either heading straight to the beach or the mountains, and few are choosing to stay in Bangkok. Business is not as good as it was in 2013—everyone is suffering. Something we have to live with; it will pass. Bangkok remains a significant regional hub, and Suvarnabhumi is an efficient airport to fly in and out of with minimum hassle.”

“On a personal level,” he adds, “I have been posted to many of our destinations around the region, but I enjoy living in Bangkok because of the similarity of food, culture, and business environment to that of my hometown, Jakarta. Being here feels like I am back in Indonesia. I do have to go back once or twice a month on business for strategy update meeting, which I find most effective when conducted face to face with my colleagues; the line of communication is much clearer.”

To drive more business, Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.com) is offering special prices through its website for flights booked a month in advance; once booked, flights cannot be changed. They are also working very closely with corporate clients who have their own dedicated check-in line at the airport, and with travel agents with a historical loyalty to Indonesia.

“Our two countries are tropical and depend on commodity trade to strengthen their economies,” he says. Both countries are main producers of agricultural products such as rice, corn, peanuts, tropical fruits, vegetables, fishery products, etc. In this decade, a position as a food producer becomes very important in the world. To celebrate 60 years of international relations between us, the Indonesian Thai Chamber of Commerce was officially established on June 19, 2013.”

“With Jakarta as the gateway to Indonesia,” he says, “the other two routes most popular with passengers flying out of Bangkok are Denpasar, the capital city of the tropical holiday island of Bali, with 11 round-trip flights a day out of Jakarta; and Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city. But Indonesia has a lot more to offer. The country is an archipelago of 16,777 islands with a diverse range of tourist destinations that have so much more to offer than the three most famous places—such as the island of Lombok. Part of my job of promoting Indonesia is to show the diversity of my country. I hope that when people think of Indonesia, it will be synonymous with Garuda. We also offer through services to Australia, with Brisbane being the most recent addition to our Australasian route network. Looking at the other end of the global network, we are planning to re-introduce flights to London in September as an extension of the Jakarta–Amsterdam service.

Garuda’s ticket office at Lumpini Tower is open Monday to Friday and is a short walk from Lumpini MRT, but the way passengers are communicating with the airline has changed. Today’s tech-savvy traveller is booking and changing travel arrangements online. Hence, travelling with Garuda has become a paperless experience, from making the reservation through payment and issuing of the ticket. The advantage of checking in online is that when you get to the airport, you can just join the baggage drop-off line, reducing the amount of time spent standing in line.

Garuda Indonesian Airlines looks forward to welcoming passengers in Bangkok aboard soon, to show them the diverse tourist opportunities that Indonesia has to offer.

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