WHILE GATHERING INFORMATION ON INTERNATIONAL AIRLINE EVALUATION BY THE UK’S AIRLINE CONSULTING COMPANY SKYTRAX, WE FOUND OUT THAT SINCE 2007, ASIANA AIRLINES, WHICH FLIES FROM SEOUL TO ALMATY AND ASTANA, HAS BEEN CERTIFIED AS A 5 STAR AIRLINE, WHICH IS THE HIGHEST RATING FOR AN AIRLINE. ASIANA WAS NAMED THE BEST AIRLINE IN THE WORLD BY SKYTRAX AT THE 2010 WORLD AIRLINE AWARDS. OUR COLUMNISTS LEARNT HOW 5-STAR ASIANA OPERATES IN KAZAKHSTAN AND WHAT THEIR RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ARE.
VSEVOLOD KIM, MARKETING, SALES AND AIRPORT SERVICES MANAGER OF ASIANA AIRLINES ANSWERED SOME QUESTIONS OF SKY MAGAZINE.
“ASIANA” IS A BEAUTIFUL NAME. BESIDES ASIAN BACKGROUND, WHAT WERE THE OTHER REASONS TO CHOOSE THIS PARTICULAR NAME?
The history behind the name “Asiana” is quite simple and logical. The largest Korean airline “Korean Air” is formerly known as “Koreana”. That name emphasized the country of origin and the fact that the airline performed only domestic flights at that time. Asiana was founded as an international analogue of Koreana to perform flights to East and South East Asia. That is why the name of our company emphasises its Asian origin. Currently Asiana is recognized as the greatest airline in the world by numerous airlines and travel experts.
ASIANA HAS ONLY RECENTLY STARTED ITS OPERATIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN. HOW DOES THE COMPANY FIND ITSELF IN KAZAKHSTAN?
At the moment our company feels quite comfortable in Kazakhstan. Indeed, there are certain difficulties typical for the initial stage of a new project as we have just started flying to Astana since last year. Currently our main goal is to increase the passenger flow.
Asiana flies from Seoul to Astana and to Almaty. We have to say that Kazakhstan’s population is rather small in number and Korea is not the as popular tourist destination as ,for example, the Arab Emirates, Turkey or Thailand. Mostly, our passengers are people who travel on business.
Thus, fill rate of our Kazakhstan flights is low. Although, we can see some positive development. Medical tourism to Korea is becoming more popular. There are more passengers who go to Korea for training as a part of international cooperation in education.
Generally, we look at our presence in Kazakhstan positively and, as I had mentioned earlier, we are comfortable here. The similarity of cultures and mentality of our people help a lot. In the professional environment there are some issues to solve, of course, as your aviation has some repercussion of Soviet Aeroflot, but they are not significant. The most important is that Kazakhstan airports meet all international standards and provide basic services.
IS KAZAKHSTAN ROUTE IN DEMAND? IS IT PROFITABLE?
As of today Asiana in Kazakhstan is bearing losses. This is due to devaluation of the national currency resulting in significant decrease in paying capacity of an average Kazakhstan tourist. Asiana is dedicated to fulfilling its corporate social responsibility and is forced to put the airfare lower than its net price. We understand that all Kazakhstan citizens sustain certain financial losses, and we don’t have any moral right to put them at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, we consider Kazakhstan routes to be very promising as Kazakhstan is located in the center of the continent and is a transit country. Asiana was one of the first to develop routes via Kazakhstan. Some time ago there were charter flights from Bishkek to Almaty by an outsourcing company so that the passengers from these charter flights would further fly to Seoul with us. In other words, we had “Bishkek – Almaty – Seoul” route which performed well. In 2005 we had 100 passengers per month whereas at the end of 2007 we had about 150 passengers per week. At that time Almaty Airport didn’t have necessary arrangements to receive transit passengers but did a great job nevertheless. At first, everyone had to obtain visa and go through the passport control twice. Then they reconstructed the passenger’s terminal and allotted the transit zone. These days a passenger proceeds from arrival area directly to the check-in and then right away to the departure. This improved the transit services and allowed to increase the passengers flow. This is very important because it serves the goals of Kazakhstan to become a transit hub and a transit country. We consider flights via Kazakhstan as the most convenient for the passengers from the neighboring countries. It’s more time-saving to fly to Korea via Kazakhstan and not via Russia or China.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR EXPO 2017? DO YOU PLAN TO INCREASE THE FREQUENCY OF FLIGHTS?
Obviously any company targets to increase the number of flights. Expo 2017 is about green technologies and Korea is one of the leaders in this area that is why we will take an active part in the exhibition. We have a close relationship with Kazakhstan. Although the Seoul – Astana route is unprofitable, we will be committed to add to passenger throughput.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT DO KOREAN TOURISTS FIND INTERESTING IN KAZAKHSTAN? HOW DOES ASIANA ASSIST IN DEVELOPMENT OF TOURIST FLOW BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES?
Korean people know that the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of civilizations and the part of its route went through the territory of the present Kazakhstan. This is the reason why many Koreans visit Southern Kazakhstan and its historical cities being of value for its architecture, monuments and significant sites. Tourists also know about unique Kazakhstan nature with great variety of climate zones, the most beautiful views of deserts comparable to Sahara and the Altay mountains with meadows comparable to the Alps. Many people come to see this beauty with their own eyes and go hiking. Some tourists come just for fishing.
Asiana’s mission is to be an air bridge between Kazakhstan and Korea. We do our best to encourage tourists flow between the two countries as we raise awareness of Kazakhstan, cooperate with the Embassy, hold cultural events during the state holidays. Together with Air Astana, our partner, we conduct seminars where we talk about our countries.
DO YOU CELEBRATE KAZAKHSTAN STATE HOLIDAYS DURING THE FLIGHTS?
Just like on any other international airline we celebrate the New Year, the most important holiday. Usually on that day we serve a special kind of Champaign. Whereas on other holidays like Independence Day or Astana Day the crew make an announcement and share their best wishes.
ARE THE CREWS FLYING TO KAZAKSHTAN MULTINATIONAL? DO THEY SPEAK RUSSIAN OR KAZAKH?
Our crews are indeed multinational and their members represent different countries. We have two crews flying to Kazakhstan. As a rule, in each team there is a member who speaks Russian. Besides we are one of the first foreign airlines that have in-flight announcements in Kazakh. Air Astana and Almaty Airport staff members helped us with that. Regretfully, we don’t have cabin crew members who speak Kazakh yet. In fairness it must be said that Air Astana crew members don’t speak Korean either.
WHAT KIND OF IN-FLIGHT FOOD IS SERVED BY ASIANA? IS IT MADE IN KAZAKHSTAN OR KOREA?
Our in-flight food is delicious. We have a special department that takes care of the menu. We order catering from Seoul and Almaty. Unfortunately, when we fly from Astana we don’t order in-flight catering due to insufficient flight loading.