Ply African routes, too, Dr M tells AirAsia boss
PUTRAJAYA: Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has suggested that low-cost carriers such as AirAsia consider flying to Africa to facilitate travel and increase trade and investment linkages.
He said a lack of connectivity was a deterrent towards enhancing ties between Malaysia and African nations although the continent possessed economic potential that remained largely untapped.
"Due to a lack of connectivity, Africans coming to Malaysia for business purposes have to fly to Paris, for example, before coming down to Malaysia. That is a deterrent," he said at the Malaysia-Africa Business Forum (MABF) yesterday.
In an immediate response, AirAsia Group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes said the idea was feasible.
"Azran (Osman Rani, AirAsia X's chief executive) and the team are looking at Egypt, Luanda (Angola) and Nairobi (Kenya)."
Dr Mahathir also suggested that African airlines tie up with AirAsia, similar to the arrangements the low-cost carrier had with Indonesia and Thailand.
With the "Now Everyone Can Fly" slogan, AirAsia could bring Malaysia and African nations closer, he said in his keynote address entitled "Exploring New Dimensions" at the MABF held in conjunction with the 9th Langkawi International Dialogue 2011 here.
As the fastest growing low-cost carrier in the world, Dr Mahathir said AirAsia was in the position to do so.
"He (Tony) is a remarkable man. Perhaps, we should have him as a consultant. We should persuade him to fly into Africa," he said, adding that he would discuss this with Fernandes.
"I am amazed at AirAsia. They give one million free seats. So, they must be making some money somewhere else. Just imagine him giving one million free seats to Africa and (vice-versa)," he quipped.
He said the routes might not be profitable in the initial stage, but eventually they would be.
"We should be prepared to accept losses initially so that in time, we will be able to build up facilities for travelling that will enable more Malaysians to go to African countries and Africans to come to Malaysia."
Dr Mahathir also highlighted the role of low-cost hotels in boosting tourism and business activities.
"Imagine Tune Hotels in Tanzania and Kenya, where there are so many things to see," he said, alluding to the hotel chain under the AirAsia Group.
Franchising, he said, was the fastest way to expand businesses but it had not been exploited well between Malaysia and the African nations. He cited South Africa's Nando's restaurant chain as one of the successful franchises in Malaysia.
Establishing personal relationship was also important in enhancing bilateral relations, Dr Mahathir said, adding that it would enable the people to interact and understand each other's business culture.
He said one way to do this was via exchange programmes among civil servants between Malaysia and the African nations.
"Knowing how to do business is important but to enable all this, connectivity is crucial." -- Bernama
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