AirAsia X opens Jeju to Kuala Lumpur route
AirAsia X is the long-haul affiliate of Malaysia-based low cost carrier AirAsia. The airline currently offers flights from both Incheon and Busan to Malaysia’s capital city.
The addition of the Jeju service is an attempt to build on the success of the existing Incheon and Busan routes. AirAsia X hopes to attract international travelers that have previously had to travel to a major airport on the mainland before taking a connecting domestic flight to Jeju.
“There are always routes that we believe there’s a lot of demand,” said Benyamin Ismail, CEO of AirAsia X at a separate interview with a group of reporters in Jeju on Wednesday. “There is no airline from Southeast Asia that flies into Jeju, so I think that is a winning factor for us.”
He also added that being the sole operator flying between Jeju and Malaysia will give the airline the ability to play with fares and more efficiently win customers.
The airline offers four services from and to Jeju on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday with large body 377-seater A330 planes. The first flight took off on Tuesday and the airline said it was over 90 percent full. The journey takes about six hours.
Fares are currently set at 77,000 won ($70.52) for a one-way trip as a week-long launch promotion began on Wednesday.
While Chairwoman Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz said the airline will decide whether to maintain the service after a year-long trial period, both the chairwoman and Ismail said they were confident the Jeju route will be profitable.
The airline is planning on expanding its existing services in Korea as well due to stable demand.
“Incheon was a great route with [average] load factor of over 90 percent,” he said.
The company is planning on increasing service frequencies for both Incheon and Busan. While the airline operates 18 flights between Incheon and Kuala Lumpur a week, it plans to increase the service to three flights a day in the “next few months.” The Busan route will also be expanded, with seven flights a week rather than the current five. Both plans are subject to government approval.
Jeju Provincial Government welcomed AirAsia X’s launch of a new service as it has been hoping to diversify its target markets for tourism following a steep decline in Chinese travelers to Korea after the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system.
According to data from the Jeju Tourism Organization, the number of Chinese visitors to the island this year through September decreased by a whopping 73.1 percent compared to the previous year. On the other hand, travelers from Malaysia increased by 22.5 percent during the same period.
“With the launch of a new service we will focus on setting up the cultural and religious infrastructure necessary for Muslim tourists from Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia,” said Lee Seung-chan, director general of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province tourism bureau.
According to Lee, the number of Muslim prayer rooms on the island has already increased from two to four this year and Jeju Airport is currently constructing a prayer room in the arrival hall.
Chairwoman Aziz thanked the government for such efforts , but added Malaysians can be very flexible with their prayer times.
“When we visit London and New York, we don’t expect prayer rooms to be there, why should we expect [that] in Jeju?” she said. “In a more comprehensive context, there needs to be affordable hotels and a good network of transport services.”
BY KIM JEE-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]