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Airline Leaders Interview Series – Bimali Malalasekara [SriLankan Airlines]

Iztok Franko

Airline Leaders Series - Bimali Malalasekara SriLankan Airlines

This interview is part of our exclusive ‘Airline Leaders Series,’ conducted in collaboration with Branchspace – digital reinvented, aiming to transform airlines into better digital retailers. Throughout the series, we’ll highlight the key concepts that are shaping modern airline digital retailing, ensuring you gain valuable insights from each discussion.

Leader: Bimali Malalasekara

Airline: SriLankan Airlines


Location: Gampaha District, Western Province, Sri Lanka

Talks about: Ecommerce, Distribution, Digital Marketing, CRM, Personalization, Fraud Management

Bimali Malalasekara SriLankan Airlines

Why do you need to read this interview:

Gain insights from Bimali Malalasekara, Manager Digital Commerce at SriLankan Airlines, as she shares her journey through the challenging landscape of enhancing ecommerce and expanding direct channels in a legacy, full-service airline. With over 15 years in the industry, her experience offers a deep dive into overcoming hurdles in building ecommerce in developing markets and the crucial steps toward growing direct sales.


Bimali: I’m working for SriLankan Airlines, which is the national carrier of Sri Lanka, a legacy and also full-service carrier. I have 15 years’ experience in the airline domain, including in PSS migration; integrations and project management; ecommerce operations; and regional marketing. Currently, I’m in charge of ecommerce at  SriLankan Airlines. In different terms, we call it digital commerce as well. The trend is digital, so we wanted the airline to focus on that.

2024 Goals and Initiatives

Bimali: As with other ecommerce industries, our key objective is to increase sales. Currently, our online sales contribution is still less when compared with indirect channels, so we’re expecting to increase that share significantly by end of 2024. That is a primary goal for us, and we have defined specific subgoals in that regard such as to boost our website traffic by 25%.

This entails a lot of digital marketing, especially search engine optimization, content marketing, social media marketing and paid advertising. We have added other landmarks on top of whatever we are doing today, eventually expecting to expand our customer base by 15% by the end of this year.

Also, our conversion rates are still fairly low, so we want to increase it significantly, also by the end of this year. Again, with these goals, we are planning to  enhance online user experience of passengers. We are also looking at improving the features we already have in our portfolio.

2024 Initiatives

Bimali: We are in the process of expanding our online channels, including our recently relaunched mobile app, which boasts a refreshed interface. Concurrently, we are introducing a range of new ancillary services, such as e-visas and gift vouchers, with many others in the pipeline for activation.

To optimize our conversion rate, we are strategically employing remarketing tactics, particularly focusing on email remarketing for customers who have abandoned their carts. Additionally, we have initiated remarketing efforts through the Google funnel, utilizing search engines via Google Ads. Future plans include expanding our remarketing reach through social media platforms, leveraging Meta’s capabilities.

Furthermore, we have reinstated always-on campaigns and are committed to maintaining a strong regional online presence. While transitioning from search ads to display ads in Google Ads, we recognize that a uniform approach may not yield optimal results in every market. Consequently, in markets where search ads have proven less effective, we have implemented Performance Max campaigns. Our objective is to remain at the forefront of technological advancements and next generation advertising practices, recognizing the dynamic nature of the market landscape.

Recently, we successfully launched our New Distribution Capability (NDC) solution tailored for travel agents, with unique offerings and merchandising capabilities. Presently, the NDC platform is available in Sri Lanka and India, with plans to introduce this solution in the Middle East region in the near future.

SriLankan Airlines aircraft

Source: SriLankan Airlines website

Emerging Technologies

Bimali: Generative AI is indeed making a significant impact in various domains today, particularly in enhancing our operational processes, notably in fraud management. Addressing one of our primary challenges in fraud detection, the implementation of generative AI tools has proven highly effective in identifying and flagging fraudulent patterns. Moreover, the insights generated by AI are instrumental in reassessing and refining our fraud management rules.

In the future, we will focus on leveraging AI for a customer-centric approach, with plans to introduce an AI-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application. This initiative aims to provide customers with a highly personalized online experience based on insights derived from their past purchase patterns and interests. Through customer profiling, we aspire to tailor the booking experience to individual preferences, thereby enhancing overall customer satisfaction and engagement.

Key Challenges

Bimali: The industry’s competitiveness poses a significant challenge. The online travel market is fiercely competitive, with both traditional airlines and low-cost carriers vying for market dominance. Amidst such saturation, distinguishing the airline’s e-commerce offerings and presenting unique value propositions to customers becomes a formidable task.

Managing distribution channels presents another hurdle. Striking a balance between direct bookings through the airline’s website and indirect bookings via third-party travel agencies and online travel agencies (OTAs) requires careful optimization. Our aim is to enhance revenue while minimizing distribution costs through a refined distribution strategy.

Tailoring personalized experiences for customers based on their preferences, booking history, and other data demands advanced data analytics and AI-driven solutions. Achieving this without overwhelming customers presents a substantial challenge, underscoring the importance of a delicate balance in customization efforts.

Furthermore, navigating regulatory challenges is paramount. Airlines operate within a highly regulated environment, subject to various legal and regulatory frameworks governing e-commerce transactions, data privacy, and consumer rights. Ensuring compliance across multiple jurisdictions necessitates vigilant monitoring and continuous adaptation to evolving regulatory landscapes.

Do You Want to Listen to More Talks With Airline Digital Leaders?

If you want to learn from leaders like Bimali about how to advance your airline digital retailing or want to be the first to know when our next Airline Digital Talk will be published, please:

Iztok Franko

I am passionate about digital marketing and ecommerce, with more than 10 years of experience as a CMO and CIO in travel and multinational companies. I work as a strategic digital marketing and ecommerce consultant for global online travel brands. Constant learning is my main motivation, and this is why I launched Diggintravel.com, a content platform for travel digital marketers to obtain and share knowledge. If you want to learn or work with me check our Academy (learning with me) and Services (working with me) pages in the main menu of our website.

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