Malaysia Airlines' brand undamaged...for now

Malaysia Airlines’ reputation and brand is unlikely to be significantly damaged by the disappearance of Flight MH 370, experts say.

Travel businesses and branding specialists told Fairfax Media that Malaysia Airlines would suffer as a result of the aviation mystery but the impact was likely to be modest and short-lived.

Flight Centre spokesman Hadyn Long said bookings with the international carrier had not dropped since the jet went missing on March 8.

‘‘The numbers are holding up pretty well,’’ he said.

Mr Long said Malaysia Airlines was a respected airline with a good reputation. He said he did not know of any reduced fares offered by Malaysia Airlines in the wake of the missing plane.

‘‘It hasn’t had an impact but it’s very early days. People at the moment are more concerned with what’s happened to it,’’ he said.

Mr Long said there may have been isolated cases of passengers cancelling flights with Malaysia Airlines but any serious impact on the airline was likely to be felt in the future, once the reasons for the disappearance were known.

‘‘It’s hard to answer as we don’t know what has happened to it,’’ he said.


Mr Long said the American airlines involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks initially experienced some downturn in business but recovered and he predicted Malaysia Airlines would also survive largely unscathed.

The Australia Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Jayson Westbury said he had not heard of any anecdotal reports of people turning away from Malaysia Airlines.

He said even if the plane had crashed, it was unlikely to stop people flying with the airline or with other carriers.

‘‘In the past we’ve seen planes go down very publicly, we’ve seen people running away from infernos but Australians seem very resilient to these things and forgive and forget very quickly,’’ he said.

In the 2012-2013 financial year, Malaysia Airlines was the ninth most popular international carrier departing from Melbourne and Sydney, out of 28 and 41 airlines respectively.

In Melbourne the airline filled just under 410,000 international seats during that time and in Sydney just over 443,500 seats.

University of Melbourne Professor of Marketing Bryan Lucas said if, as suspected by investigators, a technical fault was not to blame, Malaysia as a travel destination and Kuala Lumpur as a transit airport were likely to be hit as hard as Malaysia Airlines.

‘‘’’I think people are well enough aware that [a hijacking or rogue pilot scenario] could happen to any airline and has happened to other airlines,’’ he said.

‘‘The effect is negative but it is not the same negative effect as if there had been a technical fault and the plane blew up ... the effect on Malaysia Airlines is going to be dampened.’’

Professor Lucas said the mystery may give would-be plane passengers pause to think but it was unlikely lead to a decline in air travel.

‘‘They may think twice for a limited time. The public forgets really quickly,’’ he said.

He said he did not believe Malaysia or Malaysia Airlines had handled public relations related to the missing flight badly, given the confusing nature of what had happened.

Principal of online reputation consultancy EngageORM Gerry McCusker said social media meant it was inevitable that brands were damaged by crises because of the impatience of ‘‘armchair quarterbackers’’ who were quick to condemn companies.

‘‘I’m pretty convinced that [Malaysia Airlines] are doing everything the can the best they can ... irrespective of that, we live in a commentary-laden media environment where no one has any humility or respect for what they do,’’ he said.

Mr McCusker, author of Public Relations Disasters, said Malaysia Airlines had addressed the  ‘‘three Rs’’ of crisis communications’’ - expressed regret, accepted responsibility and taken remedial action.

But he said it was difficult to provide constant information to avoid a vacuum that would be filled with speculation when the plane was still missing.

Mr McCusker said while the digital age meant reputations were quickly tarnished, the damage could also be fleeting as the next breaking story took over.

He said ultimately what the incident meant for Malaysia Airlines would depend on the plane’s fate.

This article Malaysia Airlines' brand undamaged...for now was originally published in Brisbane Times.