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Korean Jin Air makes its way into Southeast Asia

Luc Citrinot, Etn Senior Managing Editor Asia (in Bangkok)  Jan 05, 2010

Korean Air low cost subsidiary used the festive season to make its first step into Southeast Asia with the launch of its first flights in a brand-new Boeing 737-800 from Seoul Incheon International Airport to Bangkok. The economic crisis in South Korea and a weakening local currency have been considered as determinant factors for this route opening, according to Kim Jae-Kun, Jin Air President and CEO. “Korean people still wants to travel but were looking increasingly for bargains. We offer the right alternative of a high quality product to reasonably prices,” he said at the inaugural ceremony in Bangkok. Korean outbound travelers’ market is expected to decline from a peak of 12 million in 2007 to less than 9.5 million in 2009. Jin Air has a daily flight between both cities despite high competition from Asiana, Korean Air, Thai Airways and another low cost carrier Jeju Air. All airlines offer some 85 direct flights each week between both countries.

But the new frequency is seen as a welcome addition by Thai officials. “We experienced a drop of 30% of the Korean market in 2009 due mainly to economic difficulties. But we are confident that Jin Air will help to reverse the trend. We start to see in fact a recovery in Korean incoming market, especially following the launch of our ‘let’s take a break’ campaign,” says Jutthaporn Rerngronasa TAT Deputy Governor for International Marketing. Thailand expects this year to welcome less than 700,000 Korean tourists compared to 888,000 in 2008 and 1.1 million in 2007.

Bangkok is the first city in Southeast Asia served by Korean Air low cost subsidiary. Thailand remains in the long term not only attractive for Korean travelers but Korea is also gaining in popularity for Thai. Korean pop music and tv series combined with the weak Won currency and the abolition of visas for Thai travelers have seen the number of tourists from the Kingdom reaching over 160,000 in year 2008.

Bangkok is part of three new international destinations for Jin Air. “We also launch flights to Macau and Guam and will look to expand in 2010. In Southeast Asia, our next destination is most likely Clark Airport near Manila. And we also look at Ho Chi Minh City,” adds Jae-Kun. Looking at more potential routes, Jae-Kun sees good opportunities for flights from Busan to Pattaya-U Tapao airport or from both Busan and Seoul to Phuket. Another important market is Japan, which is still currently not served by Jin Air despite rocketing figures from Japan outbound market to Korea due to favourable exchange rates for the Yen vs the Korean Won. “We are however looking to serve Tokyo new low cost airport in Ibaraki as soon as it will be opened to commercial flights”, tells Jae-Kun. Ibaraki is due to begin its activity by March or April 2010.

As Korean economy is now on the path to recovery, will Korean tourists continue to favor budget carriers, once they will have again more money in their pocket? “ I believe that Korean travellers are very pragmatic. Many of them does not want to pay anymore expensive air fares, when travelling. Budget carriers will then always be able to attract new customers,” says Jin Air CEO.

Korean Jin Air makes its way into Southeast Asia
Jin Air President Kim Jae-Kun and TAT Deputy Governor Juttaporn Rerngronasa at Bangkok airport

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