Thursday, July 18

Association: Route suspension slap in the face

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Yong (left) and Chua during the interview.

KUCHING: The Association of Sarawak Inbound Agencies (Asia) has described AirAsia’s decision to suspend the Kuching-Shenzhen route, effective Feb 28 this year, as ‘a real slap in the face’ to Sarawak.

Its president Philip Yong, who is also a board member of Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and advisor to Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF), said it was ‘very insensitive’ of the airline to have announced the suspension without first consulting the Sarawak government or discussing with the private sector in the state.

He added that given the fact the Sarawak government had been subsidising the route, AirAsia’s action smacked of high-handedness.

“It takes time to build up a route and business link. We had put in so much effort and this direct route was starting to pick up.

“Tourist arrivals from China increased by 15 per cent to 45,000 last year compared to the previous year. They (AirAsia) cited load factor (as among the reasons for the suspension), but the load was 75 per cent for the last four months.

“Moreover, foreigners made up nearly 60 per cent of the total load, which means we were starting to do well.

“Seventy-five per cent load is good and nothing to be ashamed of,” he told an arranged interview with The Borneo Post and See Hua Daily News, here yesterday.

Yong opined that the airline should give at least two years to grow and establish the Kuching-Shenzhen route.

He said such abrupt suspension was both shocking and disappointing, more so after the Sarawak government launched its ‘Visit Sarawak Campaign’ in Shenzhen in December last year.

“Representatives of AirAsia were also at the campaign launch in Shenzhen.

“And a month later, they announced the suspension of the direct service.

“SCB (Sarawak Convention Bureau) has launched several initiatives to draw tourists in through this route.

“Things are gradually picking up and suddenly they (AirAsia) say they ‘close shop’. It’s annoying.

“What are all these efforts for? You might as well not do all those promotions,” he lamented.

According to Yong, the Kuching-Shenzhen flight operated on a daily basis when it was first launched. At present, it runs four times a week.

With the suspension, travellers coming from Shenzhen to Sarawak after Feb 28 will have to go through Kuala Lumpur – an estimated seven hours of travel including the connecting time.

With the direct flight, the journey takes a little over three hours.

Yong, meanwhile, observed that the state is getting more Free Independent Travellers (FIT) rather than tour groups.

The benefits of FIT, he said, are that they explore places of interest based on information available online, and would subsequently spread the word among friends.

Besides food and activities such as festivals and kayaking, Yong named the top three preferred destinations here as Bako National Park, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and Sarawak Cultural Village.

He also described Kuching as one of the best destinations for families.

As such, he felt that AirAsia should continue offering the direct service to give tourism industry players more time to build up the tourist base.

When prompted on the estimate loss resulting from the suspension, he said it was hard to quantify as local businesses also stand to lose out on potential income.

With him at the interview was Asia secretary and STB board member Chua Juan Chuan, who asserted that the people of Shenzhen had started to view Sarawak as a good destination.

“There is huge potential for business. Shenzhen is such a vibrant city of young people, most of whom are entrepreneurs with a monthly income of some RM10,000.

“We should treasure this Kuching-Shenzhen direct route because of such high-income young travellers. Kuching is a new destination to them, and if we do our job better, it is a huge untapped market,” he added.

AirAsia announced last month that it would be suspending the Kuching-Shenzhen route – launched in December 2017 – due to commercial reasons.

Meanwhile, the airline reiterated the reason for its decision to suspend the route in a statement to The Borneo Post yesterday, saying it was due to ‘commercial reasons’.