Tuesday, April 21, 2009

AirAsia bucks the trend

FROM this recession, we learn that bad economic news is only bad for some but good news for others.

Contrary to the norm of organisations suspending operations or trimming costs, AirAsia seems to be progressing at full tilt here. It is expanding and adding new routes – such as the latest Kuala Lumpur-Tianjin route – to keep up with demand.

AirAsia Bhd’s long-haul sister airline, AirAsia X, took off to Tianjin on April 2.

“This is a welcome move for us,’’ said a Malaysian who only wished to be known as Chin. He said he could not afford to use the other airlines so he tried out AirAsia, paying only 1,800 yuan (RM955) for one-way airfare. Chin, who has been working in Tianjin since 2008, took the flight home several days after AirAsia’s maiden flight to Tianjin.

“The flight was okay but delayed by an hour – 30 minutes late due to traffic control in Beijing and another 30 minutes due to the late arrival of the morning flight. Tony (AirAsia group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes) was on the same flight too, greeting each and every passenger on board. He’s a true professional,’’ he added.

Chin, who had been working in Beijing before his transfer to Tianjin, also gave the pilot the thumbs-up for making a smooth landing.

Plaudits also came from a group of Malay­sian students who are studying Chinese Medicine at the university in Tianjin as the new route means a cheaper alternative. It is a more approachable no-frills airline for them and it only costs about 2,,200 yuan (RM1,170) for a round trip.

“I can now afford to fly home more often,’’ said student Benny Tang, adding that he would take AirAsia again to go home to take part in a play next month.

The additional route is also good news for Chinese tourists. As highlighted by Malaysian Ambassador to China Datuk Syed Norul­zaman Syed Kamaruzaman during AirAsia X’s inaugural flight press conference, Malaysia and China have shown close cooperation in the field of tourism.

Last year, he said, Malaysia welcomed close to 950,000 arrivals from China, an increase of over 20% compared with 789,568 visitors in 2007. “China is, in fact, the leading tourist market outside the Asean countries for Malaysia, and ranks number five in the top 10 tourist generating markets,’’ he added.

Xing Baohua is among the tourists who are impressed with the fare structure. “I have gone online to check on the airfare for a one-way trip which can go as low as 428 yuan (RM227),’’ said the 35-year-old avid traveller who has been working in Tianjin for many years.

She said she loves Malaysia and its beautiful sights, adding that the new KL-Tianjin route would help put more Malaysian destinations on her must-visit list. “Everyone can fly!” she said in Chinese, repeating the airline’s slogan and waving the AirAsia pamphlet.

Fernandes told the media in Tianjin that AirAsia’s journey in China began in 2004 with only two aircraft and over 200 staff. He said the airline believed that Tianjin – its first northern China destination – had the same potential as its southern China destinations.

Fernandes recalled that AirAsia began with a flight a day to Macau but now flies 12 times a day. “In 2004, AirAsia had only 4,000 passengers for the Macau route. Last year we carried 1.8 million passengers for eight destinations. In spite of the global financial downturn, we are going against the trend,’’ he said.

A travel agent from Inner Mongolia who was also present expressed great interest in expanding its cooperation with the budget carrier.

“AirAsia’s presence in northern China actually brings more opportunities for us, especially during such times of economic uncertainty,’’ said the agent, who wished to be known as Meng. “So far, I have not sold more than five or six air tickets to Kuala Lumpur. The Kuala Lumpur-Tianjin route has good potential as many from Inner Mongolia love travelling,” he said.

Meng said times might be hard but there were always opportunities, adding that some businesses or companies like budget airlines could even be immune to economic downturns.

Source : Star
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