By Denise A. Valdez
AIRLINES are factoring in the changing traveling habits of Chinese tourists, who are starting to dominate the global tourism market, when they purchase new aircraft
Laurent Janitzar, sales director of turboprop manufacturer ATR, said a growing number of Chinese travelers are ditching group tours and heading to new, less-known destinations.
“The Southeast Asia market is a big Chinese tourist market. The Chinese tourism market is changing slightly. It used to be tour groups going together, people going everywhere. That was typical. You had to bring them from China, bring them to the hub, then to the major destination. The younger generation… are starting to be able to want to go to off-the-beaten-tracks areas,” he said during a media briefing in Singapore late last month.
Mr. Janitzar said the trend is already being seen in Thailand and Indonesia.
“The airlines are going to have to respond to that. And the turboprop is going to be the aircraft that will make sense to send these people who want to look for remote areas.”
In a separate interview with BusinessWorld, Mr. Janitzar said its 50-seater aircraft — the ATR 42 — is ideal for such a market, because these tourists usually travel in sizes of 30 to 40.
“If you take an ATR 72 (an approximately 70-seater aircraft) today, you’re going to have a third of the aircraft full. That will not make sense. Now it’s up to the airline to decide whether there’s a potential for having more passengers once there is an airline connection or not,” he said.
He noted airlines can use small aircraft to test new routes with thin traffic.
Mr. Janitzar said ATR can take advantage of this trend, as it is the only aircraft manufacturer producing small capacity planes.
“All the other (original equipment manufacturers) have discontinued manufacturing 50-seater, because there was a trend in the last few years for more seats, bigger aircraft, and ATR kept on flying and producing the ATR 42. We find ourselves in a very sweet spot now, where everybody’s starting to go back to this kind platform, and we have the aircraft available,” he said.
ATR is also looking at the possibility of opening ATR pilot training centers in China and India in the coming years, as demand from the Asia Pacific market grows.
Asia Pacific has accounted for 40% of ATR’s sales since 2010. Half or about 130 aircraft from its current backlog of orders are also coming from the region.
“There are still markets where we are not present. I’m talking about India, I’m talking about China. We will make a decision in due course whether we need to be present in those countries and from when,” Christian Commissaire, director of the ATR Training Center in Singapore, said.
ATR currently has training centers in Toulouse, Paris, Miami, Johannesburg and Singapore, where they train around 20% to 25% of the ATR pilots around the globe.
“The next two or three years to come, we’ll bring our focus on countries like India, China, depending on how the sales grow in that region,” Mr. Commissaire said.
A July air passenger market report released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed the growth of international passenger traffic from the Asia Pacific is the fastest and most stable internationally.
“While year-on-year growth fell to 7.5% in July, from 9.6% in June, the bigger picture is that the upward trend in passenger traffic remains strong, supported by a combination of robust regional economic growth and ongoing increases in the number of options for travellers,” it said.
It also showed India and China posted the highest growth in domestic passenger traffic for the period, with India expanding by 18.3% and China by 16%.
Asia Pacific also took the biggest market share of air passengers for July at 33.7%, followed by Europe at 26.6% and North America at 23%.
Philippine carriers are also taking notice of the growing number of Chinese travelers.
Philippine Airlines President Jaime J. Bautisa in July said China is its fastest growing tourist market, which at a point reached 50% growth.
Also in July, Cebu Pacific President Lance Y. Gokongwei said Chinese travelers are increasingly interested in visiting the Philippines, prompting the carrier to consider adding new flights to secondary cities in China.
Philippines AirAsia President Dexter M. Comendador recently said the budget carrier is considering adding more frequencies in its flights to China.
At present, Cebu Pacific and AirSWIFT are the only airlines in the Philippines that source their aircraft from ATR. Of the two, only Cebu Pacific operates a wide range of flights as AirSWIFT remains a boutique airline.