Chef Happy K, Keerthi Hapugasdeniya, now general manager inflight services at SASCO in Vietnam, opened SASCO’s new inflight catering kitchen just before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Here he tells us how Vietnam has ridden out the disease and is now ready to rebuild its tourism business…/strong>
It has been a dramatic few months for sure. Having worked flat out to open the new SASCO kitchen in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and the excitement of our first client menus taking flight with Bamboo Airways, suddenly the world change with global problems of COVID-19.
Vietnam took strong action very quickly and everyone complied with government restrictions and rules at once, determined to do everything possible to prevent spread. It worked. Vietnam has had under 327 cases (as of May 27) and recorded no deaths, and this week normal activities have really begun to resume.
I have been based in Vietnam throughout the crisis and it has been truly amazing. The people are so resilient and so determined. At the new kitchen we were determined to stay open. We had achieved full HACCP and halal accreditation and wanted to stay operational so we would be ready to react instantly once airlines needed us again. It was a challenge, we had to rethink and reinvent what were doing while not supplying airline meals, but the staff were so committed and came to work even when they were told there was little or nothing for them to do.
We very quickly launched a new retail, ready-meal range, sold online, and have been supplying meals for airport workers. We have targeted the many aviation people not currently working and business travellers currently working from home. They know the value of meals produced from inflight kitchens and have really welcomed the initiative. SASCO’s owners are local business leaders which has helped us connect with other businesses and find new markets.
There are still no international travellers coming to Vietnam but domestic flights have restarted and domestic travellers are travelling a lot and spending on food and beverage. Bamboo’s flights have restarted and are flying pretty full. They estimate their schedule will be back to 60% in the coming weeks and it feels great to be back delivering meals for them.
Caterers will definitely have to rethink what they offer post-COVID. Of course airlines are struggling financially at the moment and need cost-effective, simplified solutions’ for Bamboo we have put the focus on a new local menu prepared with local ingredients, and those have gone down very well. We all have to get back to basics, think from the ground floor up and rebuild what we offer over time. If we give airlines new ideas and new ways to deliver great service, hospitality will be part of the post-COVID solution.
The SASCO kitchen and the inflight service centre is design to take any industry challenges and fulfil the needs of the market whatever they may be. We had to change our mind-set but have seen that when people aren’t flying, they still need to eat! We found a way to stay open until aviation reopened again and now we can’t wait to serve more flights and additional airlines.