Taking Off: AirTrav’s Audrey Ngui on Facing Failure, Investing in People, and the Importance of Humility - LA Lives

“Life is a lot easier when you accept that you are not the only one living it.”

According to Audrey Ngui of AirTrav, the biggest thing that COVID-19 has taught her is resilience. “When complexities arise one has to draw up personal motivation and leadership to steer the organization through the challenges,” she says.

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To understand failure, she realized that no matter how much she prepared, there will always be things that don’t work out: campaigns, ideas, and concepts that can disappear. “These circumstances taught me to face failure with a realization that it is unavoidable, to take it as an opportunity to improve, rather than an endpoint,” Ngui says.

When the pandemic struck, one of the industries most affected was travel and hospitality. Tourism was held to a standstill because of restrictions. Domestic travel was mandated by the IATF. Noting that this was going to limit business opportunities for AirTrav, the company knew a shift in marketing strategies and cost management was needed.

AirTrav, a company that provides seaplane chartered service direct to islands with the use of a Cessna Grand Caravan Ex Amphibian, is in a different industry than commercial air transport.

This means that the company was affected differently from local airlines. “Commercial flights and chartered flights are incomparable. The scale of the industries is quite different,” says Ngui, adding that the cost structure and organizational expanse are on opposite extremes.

Because certain factors affect the recovery of a company regardless of size, from capital structure, leverage and the general strategy aims to implement whatever opportunities are in the market, Ngui says Airtrav from the start worked with business partners and employees to focus on business continuity.

“We believe that there is a growing market that places a premium in safety and convenience in chartered air travel and that this applies not only to a select few,” she says. “Reading the market correctly will enable us to maximize opportunities that will help speed up our business recovery.”

People first

For AirTrav, it believes that its people are the greatest asset. Ngui shares that despite trying times, the company worked closely with employees to balance personal needs while ensuring business continuity.

“This was done through transparency as timely information becomes more critical in motivating employees through a crisis,” she says. “We also implemented measures such as flexible working arrangements to protect our employees’ general well-being.”

They also shored up their competency in digital marketing. Because of this, they were able to avoid having to reduce manpower. “AirTrav continued to invest in building its organization on disciplines we believe would help the company when the travel industry recovers,” says Ngui.

All these efforts were buoyed up with last year’s performance: Ngui said the company continues to grow despite challenging conditions. When travel restrictions eased up during the third trimester of the last year, they noticed an increase of interest in the traveling public to consider chartered flights on island destinations.

“Safety and convenience were key factors taken to account by our clients who experienced traveling with AirTrav,” she says.

Flying forward

With the news that the Philippines is looking to transition from a pandemic to an endemic, comes welcome excitement that travel restrictions will continue to ease up. Ngui is confident that the travel and tourism industries will bounce back.

“We look forward to this recovery as we offer new destinations as suggested by our clients,” she says. “This year, part of our strategy is to increase our organizational capacity to address the growing market demand on chartered air flights.”

Because of this experience, Ngui says that although it remains hard to predict the future, the company can prepare for possible eventualities.

“This pandemic has taught us to focus on strengthening our business fundamentals: knowing our market, communicating our value, sound financial management, and our belief in people,” Ngui says. “This knowledge will prepare AirTrav for further challenges we may encounter in the future.”

If Ngui were to give one piece of advice, it would be that hard work pays. “This means that we should be working hard when things are going well, but working harder when things are not,” she says. In her personal life, she has also learned that life must be lived with a sense of genuine humility.

“Most of us underrate the importance of humility, but for me, it enables me to see real limits and be more accepting, that no matter how much you know or how much you think you know, there will always be room to be a better person,” she says. “Life is a lot easier when you accept that you are not the only one living it.”

Photos by KIERAN PUNAY of Studio 100

This story was first published in the March 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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