AIRASIA Group chief executive officer Tony Fernandes has pledged to intensify its airline business in the Philippines amid bright prospects for the country’s tourism sector and its high economic growth.
This year is the “turning point” for AirAsia in the Philippines, said Fernandes, in a roundtable interview on Monday in Kuala Lumpur with Philippine and Indian press in the airline’s headquarters in Malaysia.
“I’m very excited with what we are doing. Of all countries, I say the Philippines is a diamond in the rough. It’s a country that we could make very large,” said the airline executive.
Only this year, Philippines AirAsia Inc. expanded its domestic flights to key tourist destinations in the Philippines. To and from Cebu alone, the airline provided new flights starting April this year to Puerto Princesa, Boracay via Caticlan airport, and Davao, as well as Clark.
While it has not had huge success in its business in the Philippines in the past few years, Fernandes expressed optimism on the country’s potentials and AirAsia’s growth side by side.
“We were a disaster in the past, but we never gave up!” exclaimed Fernandes, adding that this year had so far been the “best year” for AirAsia in the Philippines.
It was in 2012 that AirAsia started its commercial operations in the Philippines. In 2013, it entered into a share-swap agreement with Zest Airways, adding Alfredo Yao of Zest-O Corp. as an additional owner of the company. Zest Airways was rebranded as AirAsia Zest and operated as a separate brand from AirAsia until merged into Philippines AirAsia in January 2016.
Moving forward, the growing number of traveling Filipinos, as well as rising interest of global travelers to the Philippines, has supported the airline’s business in the country.
On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Cambodia early this month, Fernandes told President Rodrigo Duterte that AirAsia would beef up its connections in the Philippines.
In a recent interview, the AirAsia magnate only had good words for the President.
“I met the President recently... and I’m so impressed about what the Philippines is doing,” he said.
Also on Monday, AirAsia hosted the Santan Food Festival, the largest inflight food tasting event in Southeast Asia, featuring meals from across the region. The event, which was held in AirAsia’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, also showcased its latest signature dish, the Thai Green Curry, an aromatic chicken curry infused with authentic Thai spices served with fluffy fragrant white rice.
Representing the Philippines is the chicken adobo dish, which is also served across AirAsia’s network.
“Food is a great unifying factor across the region. What we are doing is bringing the wonderful flavors of Asean into Santan to create a unique food experience with the vision of replicating the on-ground gourmet experience on board,” said Fernandes.
Although adjusting the prices of inflight food was a challenge, the CEO said the vision was to create the first restaurant brand in the sky that is both tasty and affordable.
Ala carte Santan meals are priced at P149 each. Other food options include Malaysia’s Nasi Lemak and Hainanese Chicken Rice, and Korea’s Spicy Beef Bulgogi with Japchae among others.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on May 24, 2017.
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