Can AirAsia X's new routes change its brand profile?

AirAsia X, the long haul arm of Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd, is looking to fly to markets such as Hawaii and London within the next eight months.

According to reports on The Star, CEO of the company Tony Fernandes (pictured) said that “being in Europe and the United States, would change the brand profile quite dramatically.”

Graham Hitchmough, CEO of South and Southeast Asia of Brand Union said that this could be an interesting strategy for the brand.

He explained that after struggling to establish a consistent suite of long-haul destinations and seeing its share price decline amid rising costs, this could be a last roll of the dice for AirAsia X to establish itself as a credible long-haul carrier.

"By redoubling efforts behind securing a handful of “sexy” European and US destinations, Fernandes and his team can potentially leverage some of the appeal and exclusivity of these locations and wrap them up into one overall package with the airlines existing playful brand image to create a genuine point of difference," said Hitchmough.

However, destinations alone will not be the answer, he warned. If AirAsia X can build on the cachet of these new routes to enhance and differentiate other tangible customer touch points across the entire brand experience, then it might be onto something.

Meanwhile, AirAsia X group chief executive officer Kamarudin Meranun was quoted saying that the airline is also currently streamlining its operations following an internal restructuring exercise in February. He added that the airline is going to drop some of its routes to take on ‘exclusive’ routes such as Hawaii. WSJ also reported that AirAsia X had last abandoned its plans to fly to London and Paris in 2012 due to the rising fuel prices.

“AirAsia X’s struggle to be regarded by travellers as a serious option has been hampered by the challenge of spinning its hugely strong ‘no-frills’ short-haul model into a compelling long-distance option.  Attractive pricing and a carefully nurtured image can only go so far in this regard, especially if the destinations offered simply don’t cut it in terms of genuine appeal and volume potential,” said Hitchmough.

Tom Child, senior consultant at Clear Ideas added that consumer confidence in the airline industry has taken a hefty knock over the last 12 months and Air Asia has suffered as a result of their high profile incidents.

He added that trust and satisfaction play different roles in the marketing mix for customers, so Air Asia X will probably "be looking to the European destinations to meet demand, increase market penetration but also essential in bringing consumer confidence back to the brand."

"In order to maintain a long term relationship with consumers, trust is a significant variable in the development of desire so the brand will need to ensure that cost saving measures are not the primary consideration as this could have a further impact safety concerns," Child added.

Advertising + Marketing has reached out to AirAsia X to find out more about the marketing plans but the airline declined to comment further.

Recently, competition in the airline industry is heating up in Malaysia as a new airline flymojo is set to start operations in the market later this year. Operated by Fly Mojo Sdn Bhd, the new airline is targeting the travel market within ASEAN and the regions bordering it. The airline will operate out of its primary hub at Johor Bahru, Johor and secondary hub at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Meanwhile Firefly, Malaysia’s short haul premium airline, is also amping up its marketing capabilities as it targets audiences in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.