How AirAsia is rocking it in India, and how airlines in India can leverage their entry
AirAsia’s India market entry has recently created waves and lots of discussion about what this means for the future of the industry in India, specifically local airlines. I was interviewed by a leading business newspaper in India on this, and here are excerpts from that interview.
How do you think Air Asia permeates a market and wins it? Some interesting anecdotes?
When it comes to new market launches, AirAsia is one of the most innovative, not just in the region, but in the world. And I can say that confidently, having worked with a lot of airlines around the world. They don’t just have advertisements, but connect with the customers at a deeper level, having conversations about topics relevant to them, and yet creating a splash.
Take the recent Mumbai flights launch, for example. Not only was there pomp and show during the first flight, and even Bollywood was invited, at the same time, over the last couple of months, AirAsia built up a lot of interest about Mumbai and India through candid articles on its very popular blog, Planely Spoken, like “Mumbai in 3 days and 2 nights“. On the day of the launch, there was even a special Twitter hashtag #AAroxMumbai where followers could participate in the happenings.
Moreover, when AirAsia enters a market, it tries to dominate it, first by entering multiple cities, then by adding frequencies to those cities such that it is the dominant player. Trichy, AirAsia’s first Indian destination has three flights a day to Malaysia. The airline will have almost 150 weekly flights to India before the end of the year, which will make it the 2nd most dominant airline in India, after Emirates.
It is this out-of-the-box marketing strategy, coupled with complete route dominance that makes AirAsia a formidable player in any market.
They have openly admitted loss in Middle East market entrance. Do you think all other next door markets are pretty exhausted by them so India will be key to there future?
Personally, I don’t think they’ve “admitted loss”. What they’ve done is retracted out of the market – for now. That because just a single route to Abu Dhabi couldn’t be sustained on its own, without dominating other nearby destinations. They will probably re-enter when their new A330s arrive. So, it’s not really exhaustion, but the opportunity that’s leading them to India. They’ve already conquered Southeast Asia, China and even the Australian cities they’re in.
India is the next logical choice, with AirAsia’s destinations like Bangkok, Singapore, Bali and Kuala Lumpur already popular among Indian tourists. The Indian tourist is price sensitive, and time insensitive. This means they will hunt down the cheapest bargains, even if the journey takes a little longer. This fits in very well with AirAsia’s model.
How can the Indian government promise a level playing field?
I think AirAsia entering India is a double-edged sword. While its entry is a boon for the Indian traveler and tourism in India, it might spell doom for some of the Indian airlines. Already, Air India and Jet Airways have had to slash prices to destinations AirAsia flies to. The onus now lies not on the Indian government, but the individual airlines themselves, to innovate and come out on top.
Two airlines I have confidence on are SpiceJet and Indigo. Especially the latter, given its grandiose growth plans for the next couple of years. Both airlines can soon fly internationally, and though SpiceJet is muted about its destinations, Indigo has expressed clear desire to head down to Southeast Asia – where Air Asia and Tiger Airways loom. On the west, it’s the threat of Air Arabia and FlyDubai.
A smart move by the Indian budget carriers would be to forge some sort of an alliance with AirAsia. Though code shares to India are a remote possibility, assuming the purist LCC models, a much more likely scenario would be to synchronize timings of their flights, or have a marketing tie-up for destinations beyond those the Indian carriers will fly to. For example, a passenger might fly Indigo from Delhi to Singapore (a route AirAsia is not authorize to fly), and AirAsia from Singapore to Bali. This becomes a win-win situation then.