International Women in Travel: Malaysia Airlines’ Yin May Lau

International Women in Travel: Malaysia Airlines’ Yin May Lau

We sat down with aviation powerhouse, Yin May Lau, Malaysia Airlines’ group chief marketing and customer experience officer for our International Women in Travel series.

Travel Weekly: Sustainable travel can be a sticky issue in the aviation space, how is Malaysia Airlines tackling its carbon footprint? 

Yin May Lau: The pandemic allowed us the opportunity to reflect upon ourselves. Back in 2020, we started working on our Sustainability Blueprint which we launched in April 2021, during the midst of the pandemic, with a commitment aligned to IATA that we will be net zero in 2050.

Last year we had our first flight using sustainable aviation fuel on a cargo flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, then we moved onto commercial using SAF on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore in May and recently, in August, we did another SAF flight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang using our FireFly subsidiary airlines.

It will be a long process because every day we are emitting carbon into the air, so we need to contribute back to the environment.

But it doesn’t just stop with Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG), we’ve got to be driving the entire community and not just within Malaysia Airlines or within Malaysia itself because airlines and our suppliers are global. We need to be leading the way.

TW: How did MAG cope during the travel shutdown? 

YML: Recently, we launched our E-commerce platform Journify – this was our opportunity at a time of crisis. When the pandemic hit, we were down to 98 per cent from our flights being grounded and that’s when we realised; gosh, you can’t depend on just airlines.

When we did our research and we realised that when somebody travels, only 7 per cent of expenditure is attributed to flights. The other 93 per cent is actually spent on shopping, sightseeing, logistics and so on. So we decided to try and capture more of that with Journify, which sells pretty much everything travel-related, with a focus on local Malaysian sellers.

You can use it to purchase a meal from a cafe before you board your flight, find local crafts for souvenirs, local experiences or even get your hands on some durian.

TW: Gender equality has long been a problem in the aviation industry, as well as in Malaysia itself. Does MAG have any initiatives in place to support women in aviation? 

YML: MAG is really serious about this gender equality; it’s actually one of the five tenants of our sustainability policy!

We’ve set a goal to achieve a workforce that is 25 per female by 2025. That is very far away, to be honest, but the airline industry has always been very male-dominated from the engineers to pilots, and so on. We have at least 26 female pilots already, and these are real captains of the plane, not just the first officers.

We have also set up what we call Women at MAG, which is like a support group for women within the entire group that is chaired by our CFO and myself. We bring in women from other industries to share and we also invite our male colleagues to join as advisors, because, well, we shouldn’t be just propagating this ourselves, we need them to understand and to help us with our goals.

TW: And how is MAG coping with all the disruption facing aviation right now as travel bounces back? 

YML: We are currently flying about 60 per cent of our pre-COVID capacity numbers, and by the end of this year, we should be at 95 per cent in terms of our Australia and New Zealand flights.

The struggle we face right now is really getting slots and getting approvals. It’s not about getting people to fly; there’s more demand than supply.

We understand airports have limitations in terms of resource shortages, and so the only way to manage that and not let that get out of control is to limit the number of flights coming in.

We just have to try to work together with the airport authorities and with state tourism in order to slowly bring up the number of flights so that we are able to cater to more people.

Within MAG, we did not have any retrenchment during the lockdowns. We felt that it wasn’t right.

So what we did was all of us assistant managers and above actually took a pay cut so that we could help sustain the junior levels. For example, the pilots took a pay cut of as high as 65 per cent so that they could help to keep others in employment. You know, I think that’s what helped us through because the moment the borders open, we had a team ready and waiting to come back to work.

TW: What’s your main focus right now? 

YML: Oh, my struggle every day is to make sure that the customer experience recovers to what is supposed to be. We need to make sure that we are delivering what we have promised.

Things have changed and now our passengers are asking for very different things so our people need to be able to work with each other to make sure that we deliver a seamless customer experience.

The customer is our centre of gravity. Whatever you do, whether you’re deciding between colour palettes or anything at all, you must think from the perspective of the customer.

This is what we call Malaysian hospitality. It is about us treating every passenger not as a customer, but as a guest in our home.

It’s very simple; just be genuine, be sincere and be nice to each other. Honestly, that’s all that matters.

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