Ahmet Tugcu, Director of Turkish Airlines (Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos), emphasizes the importance of effective communication and customer satisfaction in his conversation with Prestige.
“I like being in this hospitality business,” declares Ahmet Tugcu, exuding the air of a hotel general manager. His broad, friendly smile from him reaches up to his eyes from him, while his relaxed body language from him denotes a man who likes both meeting people, and making connections. Ahmet is not a hotelier, though. He is, in fact, the Director of Turkish Airlines (Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos), and he practically introduced Thailand to Turkey.
Hospitality, I question? “Yes,” he replies emphatically. “Anyone who flies Turkish Airlines is my guest, not a customer. Guest satisfaction is very important to us.” Ahmet’s words underline the subtle shift practically going unnoticed in the airline industry – astute carriers, having made the crucial satisfaction-loyalty connection, realize they are no longer merely providing transportation.
Turkish Airlines has perfected this hospitality approach. The largest carrier globally in terms of passenger destinations – 128 countries, and 331 cities – the airline is, in Ahmet’s words, “connecting the world”. As for numbers, it finished the first quarter of 2022 with US$161 million net profit, despite the pandemic and geopolitical tension. The secret? “It’s simple,” Ahmet shrugs. “If guests are satisfied, our reward is loyalty.”
This 33-year-old bachelor, with a degree in Industrial Engineering and a Master’s in Finance from the UK, has a laser-like focus when it comes to defining success. “This industry is challenging, dynamic, unpredictable, and exciting. There are the numbers, targets and revenue, but you have to go beyond. I measure success by customer satisfaction and the sustained loyalty of our guests. Competition is intense, and customer satisfaction and our service become deciding factors. I’m in the same industry as a small restaurateur or a hotelier – we face the same problems.” Passengers, he states, are not just a name on the passenger manifesto. “I know everyone who flies with us. I don’t want to lose a valuable regular customer.”
“There’s an opportunity in every challenge,” he goes on to say, referring to the pandemic. “Everyone can have a problem, but the main thing is how you fix it and treat people. Globally we have reached the same revenue as 2019 already.”
Ahmet’s local challenge is not just to sell Turkey to Thais, but encourage them to discover the world along with it. Selling Turkey meant becoming the catalyst; encouraging Thais to explore the country’s history, food, and shopping possibilities. And here, every trick in the book came into play: word-of-mouth, social media channels, influencers, bloggers, and traditional media. Almost overnight, social media feeds came alive with Turkish experiences. Georgia is the next target, he adds. “It is better to create more niches.”
As a people person, Ahmet’s current role fits him well. “I’m an extrovert. I love meeting people, understanding them. I’m not a Zoom call person. I like to meet people face-to-face over a coffee.” Incidentally, Ahmet loves his coffee and will gladly travel great distances for the perfect cup, which is the reason why we are meeting at his favorite Japanese café, across town from his home, on a Saturday afternoon.
This Istanbul native also admits he’s a city person. “Bangkok speaks to me. It’s my second home.” Six years on, the city still excites this airline executive with its endless possibilities. “I start my day with smiles; everyone has a smile to share. Bangkok is like Istanbul, where I was born, and where my family lives. It’s a fun, 24-hour city, and the society is open-minded, and very real. The street food is like Istanbul too, it’s everywhere!”
The one thing he can’t do without is his football club Beşiktaş, one of the big three in Turkey. “Every month I go back to meet the family and catch a game. I was four years old when I started to read Turkish, to follow my football team’s news in the morning paper before school. Before that my mother would read the news to me, but then she told me, ‘Ahmet, I cannot do this for you always. You better learn to read’.”
His passion for reading also extends to history, politics, and novels. “On weekends, I spend a day quietly at home reading. My job demands I remain connected 24/7, so on this one day I devote myself to books. Physical books, ”he stipulates, adding that he does remain reachable on the weekends, as his phone is never turned off.
When it comes to role models, he cites his parents. “They taught me how important empathy is.” As for inspiration he says, “Everyone has valuable insights to share. It could be a chef handing customers, or the building security guard.” As a leader, he believes providing effective cross-cultural communication to reach the company’s goals is crucial. “Connecting with my team, facilitating open communication, encouraging employee growth, and giving feedback ensures that everyone I work with feels key to the company’s success.”
As the “de facto” ambassador for Turkey, Turkish Airlines has put the country on the map for travel-hungry Thais. When Ahmet arrived in Bangkok, Istanbul was not even a blip on the radar, but practically overnight that all changed. Today, with 28 flights weekly, 39 percent of the airline’s passengers are Thai. And it all comes back to effective communication – a skill Ahmet has definitely mastered.
To find out more about — or book your flights! — Turkish Airlines, visit turkishairlines.com.