Will Rayani Air contradict Malaysia's cosmopolitan image?

The Malaysian aviation industry has in recent times gotten a fair bit of press. While still recovering from the shocks of MH370, MH17 and AirAsia Flight 8501 tragedies, the country has decided to embrace another new airline called Rayani Air.

Unlike its Malaysian aviation companions AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines, Rayani Air has taken on a bold new point of differentiation, positioning itself as an Islamic airline which will strictly follow Islamic laws. The airline currently serves up a halal menu to passengers and has prayer calls before flight take offs. Female muslim flight crew will also be required to wear the hijab.

Rayani Air’s founders Ravi Alagendrran and his wife Karthiyani Govindan, who are not muslims, in a separate interview to The Malay Mail Online, said, despite being halal certified, the airline welcomed passengers of all faith who were looking to travel in a “modest and alcohol free environment. This has led to the airline coming under scrutiny with some claiming it is simply using religion as a marketing gimmick.

The launch of the airline comes at a rather turbulent time. It is safe to say in recent times, despite its strong multi-cultural heritage, Malaysia’s cosmopolitan image has come under intense the spotlight. In June last year, an article on The Malay Mail Online reported that Muslim lawmakers have voiced concerns about Muslims nationals imposing their beliefs on their fellow countrymen.

These claims of religious tensions were further highlighted when during the Hari Raya festivities, Australian company Servcop Malaysia faced some backlash for its mascot, a wombat dressed in traditional Malay costume, being mistaken to be a pig.

In late 2014, an event called that “I want to touch a dog” which was initially launched in an attempt to dispel Muslim fears of touching dogs also came under fire by several members of the public for what was deemed to potentially hamper Muslim values and culture. This was covered by members of the press globally bringing into the frontline Malaysia’s cosmopolitan image.

Now with the launch of the new halal certified airline, we ask several branding leaders if this would further destroy Malaysia’s secular, cosmopolitan image.

Nick Foley, president of the Southeast Asia and Pacific regions of Landor says that it unlikely. Successful brands are known to tap into the consumer’s psyche by being relevant to their target audience and by being noticeably different to the competition.

“Rayani Air is clearly targeting a key sector of the Malaysian community and by doing so, are distinct from their competition.  The next challenge will be to build trust with their passengers so as to create ongoing loyalty. Only time will tell if the Islamic focus yields long term dividends for the airline,” he said.

He added that consumers prefer to build affinity with particular groups.

“Rayani Air is simply adopting a tried and true technique for increasing familiarity with a core demographic in Malaysia.”

Sharing his thoughts on the matter, Graham Hitchmough, CEO of Brand Union South & Southeast Asia said now more than ever, air travelers are not just seeking convenience and punctuality, but reassurances of safety, security and emotional as well as physical comfort.

“This is nowhere more true than in Malaysia, and if a significant enough proportion of passengers are more likely to find that sense of calm with an airline that demonstratively reflects their own values and belief system, then I think it is hard for anyone to criticise,” he said.

While he agreed that the airline owners may be exhibiting a degree of opportunism, he was quick to add that this is common with most products or brands which seek to target or court a specific audience segment - be it demographic, attitudinal or even faith-based.

Hitchmough explained that what is different in the case of Rayani Air however is it does place even greater responsibility on the business to deliver on its promises and ensure the integrity and consistency of its offer.

“Any lapse in standards or compromise of its stated Shariah-compliant commitments should and will not be tolerated by a consumer base for whom such things matter far beyond mere marketing expediency,” said Hitchmough.

Darien Mah, CEO at Forefront said that the airline is at an advantage having a key differentiating aspect that benefit them to grow in the long run and eventually create good customers’ loyalty and relationship for the future.

Echoing Hitchmough, he said: “It can be an excellent strategy especially if the airline is able to cater to a growing niche market and in this case, in accordance to the Shariah-compliant adherence.”

(Photo courtesy: Shutterstock)