Since the merger between Air France and KLM in May 2004, the group now known as AF/KLM has become the largest European airline company, with over 77 million passengers every year. The current country manager for the Philippines, Raymond Reedijk, oversees operations at the local office called KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, keeping his focus on the local front and all the opportunities that can nurture the success of the company. With the opening of the Clark International Airport as an alternative to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Reedijk received the news gladly, “It’s always good to seek new opportunities. I think the Clark airport has all the opportunities.” In asianTraveler’s chat with him, he reveals more facets of his personality and his work.
Q: What exactly does a country manager do for Air France KLM, or in the airline industry in general? And what exactly do you do to attract local clientele?
A: The country manager manages and leads the local establishment, in order to achieve the objectives defined in the local business plan. [As for attracting clientele, it’s done] with a clearly defined sales and marketing strategy, focused on several segments in the local market, and using local expertise in the team, based on “knowing our customers.”
Q: What makes Air France KLM different from other airline companies in terms of overall service?
A: Our objective is to be the best Asian-orientated European carrier in Asia, to ensure that our Asian passengers feel at home and respected on board of our flights.
Q: Is there anything new that Air France KLM is implementing that makes it ahead of the rest?
A: The recent launch of DestinationsPackage.com.ph is a good example of local innovation, in which we offer a unique product towards our local customer, in cooperation with our trade partners. The fact that we offer package tours is not unique; the way we market and sell it is innovative.
Q: Could you briefly describe the merger between Air France and KLM?
A: Air France and KLM merged in 2004, and since then have become one of the leading airline groups in the world. The local office is a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines establishment, representing Air France as well.
Q: KLM dropped its non-stop services on the Manila-Amsterdam route in 2012. Is there a move to resume it instead of serving Manila via Taipei? Is there a clamor for such a change especially from Filipino passengers?
A: KLM is constantly looking into opportunities to improve its network in order to optimize the results. As such, our teams are also looking into resuming non-stop flights to Amsterdam.
Q: Based on your observation and experience, why do Filipinos travel to Europe? What percentage is for personal trips or tours, and what percentage is for business?
A: Travel to Europe is driven by many reasons, but the two main pillars are work and leisure.
Q: So far, what is the most successful promo or strategy that you have implemented?
A: Our social media campaigns have been very successful in the recent months, as social media coverage in the Philippines is rapidly expanding. As example, you could take our local Facebook page, which is highly appreciated as a medium for interaction by our customers.
Q: Could you describe this newly launched Destinations Package program, which is patterned after the Euro Package?
A: Destinations Package is a web-based online platform in cooperation with 12 travel agents that feature over 30 travel packages to Europe and South America. Visitors to the website www.destinationspackages.com.ph learn about what these packages offer and are able to make reservations by contacting the travel agents directly. The website is promoted via KLM Philippines Facebook, as well as through e-newsletters to its subscribers.
Q: Does the current heat in Philippine politics significantly affect the company’s performance in terms of travelers/passengers coming to the Philippines? How do you deal with such challenges?
A: The current GDP growth and stable governance are resulting in more demand towards travel, including air travel. However there are many players that want to get a share of this growth, and as such it is not always easy to translate growth into positive business results.
Q: How do you find the travel industry in the Philippines and the Filipinos’ traveling habits? What do you see as a trend in the traveling habits of Filipinos?
A: We forecast a further growth of the demand in air travel, but infrastructure and good governance are two key elements towards this growth, in which all stakeholders need to continue the dialog to assure the right polices and execution.
Q: How did Air France KLM’s partnership with Gawad Kalinga start? In particular, why choose underprivileged Filipino children as beneficiaries? Do you have plans of expanding your range of beneficiaries, beyond Gawad Kalinga and destitute children?
A: Our partnership with GK started in 2009 when we wanted to commemorate KLM’s 90th anniversary by doing something for society by means of providing houses for informal settlers, rather than have a one-night celebration. By 2011, together with the involvement of some enthusiastic customers and business partners, we had helped build a total of 47 houses in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. This local initiative was mentioned in the Air France KLM Annual CSR Reports of 2010 and 2011. Since 2014, the Air France Foundation has been supporting the education of 24 bright but underprivileged students at Gawad Kalinga’s School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED). In 2015, our local establishment donated a bed-and-breakfast facility in GK’s Enchanted Farm in Bulacan in support of their social tourism program. On September 8, 2015, Gawad Kalinga and Air France KLM strengthened their partnership by signing a memorandum of agreement between Air France-KLM’s chairman and chief executive officer, Alexandre De Juniac and GK’s founder and chairman, Tony Meloto at the Air France headquarters in Tremblay-en-France. KLM in the Philippines has also been supporting Dutch-initiated local NGOs that help marginalized children. These include the Study Fund for Philippine Children Foundation Inc. and Young Focus Philippines.
Q: How did you get involved in the airline industry? Was it your long-time dream ever since?
As a 12-year old boy I was fascinated and inspired by my uncle who used to work at a travel agency. Based on his stories I decided, “I want to be a part of this dynamic industry.”
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: A typical day is dropping the kids at school at 07.15 hours from which we head straight to the office. The traffic gives me time to quickly screen the mails, so I am up to date when arriving in the office. The first thing in the office is a coffee, and then the day really starts! After the coffee, the business starts, which normally is a combination of external and internal meetings, and meeting our customers. Every hour in the office is basically an hour lost, as the interaction with our customers is essential for us. The closing of the day is frequently a reception, cocktail or dinner, as being the face of the company, it‘s essential to be present and interact with our customers and other local stakeholders.
Q: In particular, what do you do to de-stress and relax?
A: Being married and [a] father of three boys, the family is my de-stress and relax tool. Spending time with the family is the best thing to do, and during these regular occasions, my boys make sure that I don’t have time to think about work, you can trust me on that!
Q: Your job must involve a lot of traveling. Where are your favorite places?
A: This remains a very difficult question, as there are so many beautiful and fascinating places in the world, each in their own unique way. After being assigned for 7 years in Africa, this part of the world has a special place in my heart – its nature is what’s so fascinating! In the Caribbean, we visited more than 12 islands and it was so interesting to see that each island has its own identity which makes it unique.
Q: You’re practically your country’s ambassador in the eyes of Filipinos. In particular, which places in the Netherlands would you recommend the most for Filipinos to visit?
A: My advice is to combine Amsterdam with the countryside. Take a bike to explore its surroundings and its landscape, with all these small villages. And don’t you worry because everybody speaks English, just in case you get lost along the way.
Q: On the other hand, which spots in the Philippines would you recommend to your foreign guests in case they come here for a visit?
A: We always recommended friends and family to combine several islands in their itinerary, as there are so many things you need to see and do. Most of the time friends stay longer, as they don’t want to leave.
Q: Do you like the beaches? Which particular beaches?
A: There is no better feeling then standing with your feet in the sand. After living for 3 years close by the beach, you could say that we are big fans of spending family time at the beach. We have been spending a lot of weekends at the beach in Mindoro, a beautiful place to relax and enjoy.
Q: Since our issue’s theme is Incredible Journeys, may we ask, what is the most adventurous thing you ever did while traveling?
A: My most adventurous experience so far was being on a balloon flight across the Nile River in Egypt early one morning. The spectacular view from above made up for the bumpy landing in the countryside, in which five people landed on top of me!
Q: Have you made many Filipino friends in your stint as country manager? What do you think of them?
A: Yes, I have. Friendship is cross-cultural, as long as you respect and understand each other. Having children helps making new friends, as for children nationality doesn’t matter.
Q: How about the Filipino culture, food and customs? Have you found anything peculiar or interesting, whether positive or negative?
A: Being guests in a country, as this is what we are, it’s almost good to know a bit more about the culture, customs and history. This way you can better understand the “why” and “how.” For me the friendliness of the people is the base from which it all starts.
Q: Culturally speaking, Filipinos can sometimes be more European than Asian compared with other Asians, due to the Filipinos’ Hispanic heritage. Do you easily feel the European connection?
A: Yes, the history and culture gives the Filipinos an easier connection to Europe and the rest of the world, as this is one of the assets the country has [compared with] other countries in Asia.
Q: Do you find it challenging to be a Dutchman in the Philippines?
A: I [and] my family feel at home in the Philippines.
Q: Do you experience any language barrier, if any, in dealing with the Filipinos (who typically speak Filipino English and Taglish) since your native language is Dutch?
A: No not at all, as being Dutch we understand that we have to speak a second language to be able to communicate in the world. Dutch is unfortunately only spoken by 15 million people. So speaking a second language is not a question if you want to, but you have to!
Q: Are there any other challenges you have encountered while working with Filipinos? What are those other obstacles, and may we know how you’ve adjusted to them?
A: Challenges I have encountered in each posting, and you will always encounter [them]. Something it’s a challenge to understand the local law, resolution and memorandums, as they have a direct impact on running our business. But with the help of local stakeholders, we mostly succeed.
Q: Many foreigners decide on settling down or moving to the Philippines. Do you feel that way too, or do you have other plans?
A: I fully understand that people decide to settle down in the Philippines, but for my family, that is not in the planning yet. But as the saying goes, “never say never.” We just might return.