A wider range of services and more flights are on the cards 'WE ARE bringing India and China closer than ever before,' said V.J. Casshyap, of Air-India. 'While dedicating 50 years of service to Hong Kong, our airline helped to promote travel and trade and enabled better understanding of diverse cultures, as well as giving opportunities for people to know each other better.' Speaking from the airline's regional office, the regional director, who has been leading business for the Far East, Southeast Asia and Australasian sectors, was about to retire after 34 years of working with Air-India at the end of last month. But work has not stopped. Mr Casshyap organised a booth for the International Travel Exposition at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. 'We presented a pictorial history of Air-India since its early days as Tata Aviation Service in 1932,' he said. 'Images from our archives showing the different planes and evolution over the years were shown. 'We also had our mascot there, the Maharajah, where visitors could have a souvenir shot with our 'king'. It was great to see a collection of ethnic Chinese dancers visiting us there at the booth. The blend of the two cultures came together through Air-India.' Hong Kong is Air-India's headquarters for the Far East, Southeast Asia and Australasia. The city's strong Indian population makes up a large part of the airline's regular business. 'The region is diverse, with very different economies and cultures, as well as a mix of traffic,' Mr Casshyap said. 'We have a strong base from Indians living in Hong Kong who commute regularly. Indian nationals who took up residence in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are also sizeable. For those who are in Australia and New Zealand, we provide services through interline flight arrangements with other carriers.' Another prime focus for Air-India is tourism. 'We have been actively promoting our product through the travel industry and trade, the Indian Associations, as well as the many chambers of commerce serving Hong Kong,' he said. As part of the growth of relations between China and India, India received a boost in May last year by being accorded Approved Destination Status. 'We are expecting an increased percentage of tourism business growing in both directions. We already have a large number of government, trade and business delegations, particularly to and from southern China,' Mr Casshyap said. 'For Japan and China, our thrust is tourism driven. Also, we have a high frequency of flights between Singapore and India, 14 a week.' Over the past year, Air-India has held brand awareness activities. In January, there was the simultaneous showing of the Taj Mahal in ice at the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in China, and at the Sapporo Ice & Snow Festival in northern Japan. The ice sculptures were highly praised and were major tourist attractions. 'We recently held an Indian food festival with the Grand Hyatt Hotel and we flew over chefs from New Delhi. We also participated in and supported the Rotary Club Centennial Celebrations,' Mr Casshyap said. Air-India is flying high as it reaches its Golden Jubilee celebrations and is offering passengers a range of incentives. 'We are not waiting to have our anniversary before we give our customers the special deals,' he said. 'We already commenced the celebrations over the past year by launching special schemes on a continuous basis. There are many benefits for executive and economy-class travellers, such as the buy one, get one free, free domestic trips, senior citizen and tourist group fares and triangular fares between Hong Kong, Shanghai and India. The process will continue.' As the airline pushes ahead on an upswing, there is also solid work being done behind the scenes. In May, the airline's departure control functions in Hong Kong started using Air-India's real-time integrated computer applications system. The improvement means faster and more efficient service for customers, and improvements from an operational standpoint. 'We have a number of expansion plans and we plan to purchase more aircraft,' Mr Casshyap said. 'We recently launched the India to Los Angeles route, and our low-cost carrier Air-India Express will make its impact on Indian air travel next year.' After more than three decades of service at Air-India, what made Mr Casshyap spend his career there? 'Air-India has provided me with many challenging assignments and also looks after its employees well,' said Mr Casshyap, who takes pride in his years with the national air carrier. 'My career covered all the divisions of the commercial department. I started in passenger ticketing and sales, and over the period I was head of marketing, cargo and traffic services, as well as the commercial director. My foreign postings include Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sydney and Hong Kong.' Mr Casshyap also project-directed the implementation of Air-India's PROS Revenue Management System. One of the valued tasks Mr Casshyap conducted for the airline was when he authored the Airport Handling Procedures Manual. It was more than 1,000 pages in three volumes, issued in 1977. 'It was a significant undertaking, and the manual is still being used today,' he said.