The national flag carrier is not beyond repair
With the launch of the 787-8 Dreamliner, Akashbeena, Biman Bangladesh Airlines enters a new era. However, to make it profitable and to convert it into an airline that would be chosen not only by Bangladeshis but also by travelers from other countries, Biman has no other alternative but to go on a multifaceted overhaul of its entire organization.
The airline has new planes, with more on the way, and the highest authority in the country has asked the staff of the airline to work with dedication so as to ensure a favourable reputation in the aviation industry.
But let’s be blunt for a moment: The competition which Biman now faces is intense, which was not the case in the mid-70s. Business was lucrative and nearly all carriers made a good profit. Unfortunately, what Biman began with a bang eventually ended with a whimper.
Revive Biman’s advertising
By the mid and late 70s, Biman had already gone into widespread publicity, featuring a symbiotic approach that intertwined the national carrier with the tourism board.
With this move, the airline, with support from the department of archeology and the tourism board, launched special fares for travelers wanting to fly to districts which housed historic/natural attractions. When TV advertising was at its infancy and most products were publicized with motionless still photos, Biman came up with one of the most scintillating ads, showing a newly married couple going on their honeymoon to exotic locations.
The advert was done in a studio, of course, but it captured the imagination of the people because of its ability to pander to an intriguing fantasy.
Of course in the decades following our liberation, with austerity at home and the economy struggling, very few people could actually afford to go abroad for leisure. Yet, the advert, with the tagline “majestic all the way” triggered a desire in many.
In 2018, Biman has to go for another publicity drive, doing something outstanding. There have been certain adverts in the past, featuring the un-spoilt beauty of Bangladesh, but to really stand out among the publicity blitz of all the other carriers, Biman has to come up with something spectacular, like featuring the shrine of Lalon, the quintessential rural ascetic, philosopher, and spiritual healer. Biman can also bring the second largest Muslim congregation plus the ubiquity of mosques to tap into the halal tourism sector.
Resorts which adhere to religious principles without regulating the need to unwind in pristine natural settings, are all the rage. Biman can get into an understanding with such holiday spots to cater to the needs of those within and outside the country, who want to get high on natural beauty.
Aiming the wanderlust-driven middle class
The Bangladeshi middle class in 2018 is a far cry from the survival driven, “making ends meet” segment of the first two decades after independence. Back then, the middle class conjured up the image of a struggling family, desperately trying to fulfil basic needs.
Now the middle class can afford a car, credit cards, own a flat, and take holidays as many as three times year, one of which is usually outside the country. This is where Biman has to work and find out the most preferred destinations for the upwardly mobile.
Once that is done, special price/accommodation packages need to be thrown at them. No airline can survive unless they give astounding offers a few times a year.
We are all aware of how social media is the platform for publicity these days. Enough with the traditional adverts which showcase dreamy places in equally surreal scenes. Make the adverts radically different -- use rap, rock, folk, blues, or a small film with humour to uphold things which we would rather avoid highlighting, like our traffic jam, the unbearable summer heat, flooded streets, and the cacophony of cities and towns in Bangladesh.
Take the negatives and turn them into an enticing adventure. The jam as a test of patience, the summer as a natural sauna, the flooded streets as a training for adrenaline junkies, and the sound all around for experiencing the wonders of being alive. Use humour and blend it with the actual attractions.
With winter almost upon us, Biman may think of making a series of honeymoon packages, starting from low end to the top, the former in the country and the latter, outside, in Asia and Europe.
Food and entertainment
It goes without saying that with most airlines now cutting costs, the food quality in many of the noted ones has deteriorated beyond belief. Only a few still manage to maintain any sort of standard.
Stands to reason, if Biman offers better grub and bases the adverts simply around this factor, the company’s image can be revived in no time.
For long-haul flights, entertainment is also pivotal. Rights for showing the newest movies need to be purchased, as that is an unwritten law.
Once, Biman was well known for the food it served and, as far as I recall, in the early 80s, Biman caterers near old airport also sold several items to general buyers. We used to get the naan on a regular basis.
The delicious taste of Biman’s chicken sandwich, served on the Dhaka-Chittagong route in the late 70s, still lingers.
Rejuvenating the national carrier is not an impossible task. A strategic approach can bring great results within a short time. Since new aircrafts are already procured, the service and the ad campaign need to be propped up to acceptable levels.
Asking contemporary big-name film makers like Amitabh Reza, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, Animesh Aich to have a go can bring out something extraordinary, I’m certain.
To bling up Biman, its publicity cannot remain banal, it must have a touch of creative madness. Eccentricity, packaged properly, always pulls.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka