Can Tiger change its stripes?

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 Tiger a different airline?

tiger

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 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 Tiger’s Australian CEO Rob 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 Group chief executive Koay Peng Yen in Singapore they project the carrier’s “commitment towards a better and bolder tigerair”, the truth is that Tiger 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 grounded its entire fleet over concerns of safety. Tiger was also beaten by rival Jetstar as the best low-cost carrier in Australia in a recent Skytrax survey. Outside Australia, Tiger also faces stiff competition from Jetstar as well as AirAsia.

One cannot be sure about what Mr Sharp meant when he said of the new Tiger: “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 Tiger’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 Tiger 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 SIA were tardy in realizing this, Virgin Australia which acquired a 60-per-cent stake in the Australian outfit last year (and approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 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.

Tiger’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 Tiger 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 (it 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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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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