Bangkok Airways explores next 'boutique routes'

-A Monitor Report 01 Nov, 2017  |    -      +
Bangkok : Thailand's Airways has been playing a different game, when cutting costs and frills has been the main strategy for small regional airlines in Asia's increasingly crowded skies.

Describing itself as a "boutique airline," the midsize carrier boasts an extensive range of complimentary services such as airport lounges for all passengers, including those in economy, and hot meals on every flight, even for journeys that take less than an hour.

Founded as a chartered flight operator in 1968 by Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, the billionaire father of Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, now the company's president, Airways has gained a unique position over the years by developing a niche between international full service and low cost. It is reported that Prasert, who was from a family of doctors, saw potential demand in chartered flights when he was running a resource exploration-related business in the Gulf of Thailand.

The airline once operated several big aircraft and flew long-haul routes to Europe and Japan. But it dropped them during the mid-2000s when fuel prices surged and it switched its focus to short and mid-haul routes.

Airways adopted its current business model nearly 20 years ago when budget carriers began expanding in the Thai market. The new entrants offered cheap fares on short and medium routes. In response, Airways decided to focus on non-budget travellers who were willing to pay a little bit more for comfort.

"We had to let the public know that we still offered full service," Puttipong, who is also a pilot, told the Nikkei Asian Review. "That's why we named ourselves 'Asia's Boutique Airline', just like a boutique hotel that is small but very cozy, welcoming and unique."

Further setting itself apart from low-cost carriers, Airways has concluded a series of codeshare partnerships with larger international airlines to provide better connections for passengers travelling beyond its own network. There are now 22 codeshare agreements, ranging from Emirates and Japan Airlines to British Airways and, recently, state-owned Thai Airways International. "Now we make friends with other airlines that can do it better," said Puttipong.

The company is expecting to strike four more deals this year, including one with a Chinese airline. Some 25 per cent of its passenger revenue is expected to be generated from flights booked through partner airlines in 2017, up from 21 per cent last year.

"We should keep to areas where we perform best, on domestic and regional routes," said Puttipong.

The airline is exploring new opportunities to stay competitive. It plans to increase flight services and add more destinations from Chiang Mai, the popular tourist destination in northern Thailand.

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