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Thai AirAsia turns Chiang Mai into its newest hub

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Nov 19, 2010

BANGKOK (eTN) - Just a year after opening its second Thai hub in Phuket, Thai AirAsia officially inaugurated its newest hub in Chiang Mai. Asia's largest low-cost carrier is basing an aircraft Airbus A320 to serve three destinations: Bangkok, Hat Yai, and Singapore. "We see Chiang Mai emerging as an attractive destination for tourists, and we want to contribute to make Thailand's northern capital even more attractive thanks to our low-fare structure," said Tassapon Bijleveld, CEO of Thai AirAsia (TAA).

Chiang Mai has been for long a difficult air transport market for airlines. Thai Airways used to fly to many international destinations but without any profit. Chinese carriers, Tiger Airways, or Malaysia Airlines attempted to also serve Chiang Mai with limited - if no - success. All these airlines have now stopped serving Northern Thailand's largest city. "TI believe[s] that the market has changed by becoming more mature. Our low fares will certainly be attractive for locals in Chiang Mai and its surrounding. Chiang Mai receives five million tourists a year with a dramatic increase in the number of tourists from Malaysia and Singapore. Both are respectively Chiang Mai's second and third largest incoming markets," added Mr. Bijleveld.

Thai AirAsia wants indeed to capitalize on both markets. Singapore and Hat Yai will be served on a daily basis from Chiang Mai. "Many wonders why we do serve Hat Yai. Hat Yai is visited by one million Malaysian every year, many coming from the neighboring areas across the border. If they want to go to Chiang Mai, they have either to go South to Kuala Lumpur or head to Phuket. We now offer a more convenient alternative. I expect that we could then lure to Chiang Mai between 5% and 10% of all Malaysians visiting Hat Hay," he told. If the Chiang Mai hub turns into a success, TAA could then base a second aircraft. "We believe that they are more markets to be served out of Chiang Mai such as Hong Kong, Kunming, or Vietnam. If we open a new international destination, Hong Kong is, however, high on the priority list," said TAA CEO.

Beside Chiang Mai, TAA continues to expand out of Bangkok and Phuket. The airline just inaugurated its first non-stop daily flight to New Delhi out of Bangkok. "In 2011, we look at serving more destinations in India and look at the Philippines," declared Mr. Bijleveld.

In Phuket, TAA just launched a new route to Bali. "We also face scepticism for this new route as it serves two markets, which are more similar than complementary. However, we see this link more in terms of connecting two important hubs. Bali is, in fact, turning into Indonesia AirAsia's main gateway to Australia with daily flights to Perth and now Darwin. In Phuket, we offer many Thai destinations, connecting not only Chiang Mai and Bangkok but also Isaan with Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani. And we now mull out the option of serving India directly from Phuket in the near future," he explained. And if there is another regional hub to open in Thailand, Hat Yai could be the next on TAA list. "We [will] study this option," confessed Mr. Bijleveld.

Thai AirAsia turns Chiang Mai into its newest hub
Doi Suthep can expect more foreign tourists thanks to Thai AirAsia new Chiang Mai hub / Photo: LC)

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