Tony Fernandes: International travel will soon bounce back despite Omicron threat

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KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 11): AirAsia Group Bhd, which has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, is expecting international travel to recover soon despite the emergence and spread of the Omicron variant, its chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said, attributing his optimism to an increase in flight activities and robust travel demand.

“I do believe that we’re at the beginning of the end … the good thing is, this time last year, we had no planes flying. Now, we’ve got a large chunk of our fleet flying domestic Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The demand has been very, very robust,” he told US news outlet CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Monday (Jan 10).

While some countries including Thailand and India have reimposed restrictions on some arrivals because the Omicron variant has fuelled caseloads of infections, Fernandes expects international travel to revert to pre-Covid-19 levels about six months after borders reopen, hopefully in March, he said.

On China’s Covid-zero policy, Fernandes said the country continues to be a “big question” in terms of reopening.

AirAsia’s e-hailing service ‘exceeded expectations’

As for AirAsia’s ride-hailing business, Fernandes commended the performance of the new business venture, which was launched in August last year, for doing “incredibly well” and having “far exceeded” expectations.

He attributed this to deploying the same strategy when the company entered the low-cost airline market many years ago, now for its ride-hailing service business — high efficiency that results in lower prices for consumers.

Being a late entrant, airasia ride could observe what models were successful, and did not have to spend a lot of money on research, development or technology, said Fernandes, who is upbeat about its prospects. “There’s a huge, huge upside. The market is still very, very underpenetrated,” he observed.

AirAsia closed one sen or 1.28% lower at 77 sen on Tuesday, translating into a market capitalisation of RM3 billion.

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