Flying high

The CEO of Malaysian low-cost carrier Air Asia stated yesterday the company will look to add five to six routes to the MSAR every year, believing the company in the next five years could be able to carry almost 5 million passengers a year to the city

Malaysian low-cost airline carrier Air Asia is planning to add “between 32 to 34 destinations” to its Macau airline connections in the near future, the company’s Group Chief Executive Officer, Tan Sri Anthony Francis “Tony” Fernandes, said yesterday at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Travel Youth Summit.
“Macau is my number one priority in North Asia. It’s a natural place for us and we hope to add five to six new routes per year and really grow tourism here,” Mr. Fernandes added.
According to Air Asia CEO the airline already set up a Macau to Jakarta connection and will set up a connection with the Malaysian city of Kota Bharu in the next few weeks.
“We also have lots of plans for connections with the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand […] This will help bring a greater variety of travellers to Macau since the city depends a lot on mainland China. It’s good to have different market pools in the world,” he added.

Betting on Macau
According to the Air Asia CEO, since the company started flying to Macau in 2004 it has carried 8 million people to the city, with the airline currently operating 64 weekly flights to the MSAR and carrying more than 800,000 people a year.
“With the right marketing we can grow that number to 5 million a year in five years […] We’ve grown 36 per cent a year since 2001, and Air Asia went from two planes to 220 planes. We wouldn’t say it if we didn’t believe we could do it,” he added.
Mr. Fernandes said currently Air Asia represented 11 per cent of the airline market in Macau, but 26 per cent if Mainland China is not included.
“I believe we can grow that to 50 per cent of the market over the next five years,” he added.
The head of Air Asia also considered that the current capacity of the Macau International airport was sufficient for the company’s plans for the next five years, but that if it was to expand - together with the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and new border connections - Macau could become a “large hub” for airlines and tourism.
“A great problem in tourism is that governments sometimes forget about the airports and suddenly they see such a large demand. The Philippines is a great example of that. You build all these casinos but you can’t bring anyone in to Manila,” he added.
Mr. Fernandes also stated he held a meeting with Macau International Airport Co. Ltd. (CAM) to discuss the airline plans for Macau.

ASEAN meet Macau
In 2016 Air Asia carried around 56.6 million passengers, 12 per cent more than in the previous year, with Mr. Fernandes stating the company had a large focus in countries from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with the company looking to extend those connections with Macau.
“Our playground is ASEAN where 700 million people live. We want to make ASEAN a smaller place and from there reach destinations in North Asia, including Macau,” he stated.
With growth in ASEAN and North Asia being concentrated mainly in the larger cities, the businessman wanted Air Asia’s role to be providing connectivity between second-tier cities, between second-tier cities and third-tier cities, and between third-tier cities.
“We want ASEAN to be a single destination so that residents from Macau can go to Kuala Lumpur, or somewhere in Thailand, etc. At the same time we want to show ASEAN that North Asia has so much to offer,” he stated.
According to Mr. Fernandes, 19 per cent of Air Asia’s revenue comes from mainland China, with the company flying to 21 destinations with “most not having previous connectivity with ASEAN”.
The group is now planning to establish Air Asia Japan in a “few weeks”, Air Asia Vietnam in 2018 and Air Asia China in 2019, with Mr. Fernandes stating this would make the company the first foreign airline allowed to operate in mainland China.

Where nobody flew before
“No airline from Southeast Asia had flown to Macau before us […] We started flying to Macau before people started coming here. On the flight I took to Macau yesterday there were 12 nationalities and 30 per cent had never been to the city before,” Mr. Fernandes informed.
The Air Asia CEO stated the company’s decisions of initiating travel routes to areas not considered by other airlines was one of the keys for the airlines success, together with low prices and a focus on marketing.
According to Mr. Fernandes, 60 per cent of Air Asia’s routes had never been flown before, with the criteria to choose new destinations only being “common sense”.
“Generally very few routes have never worked. As long as there’s a population we can make it work […] We’ve made it work in cities with 100,000 population, and Macau has much more than that,” he added.

Seeking talents locally
Mr. Fernandes also stated Air Asia will set up an internship programme with the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT)
“We believe Air Asia’s next role is about working with universities and engaging with younger people,” he added.
The Air Asia CEO held a talk yesterday at the IFT Grand Hall as part of the PATA Youth Symposium 2017.