Starting Nov 1, it will be less expensive to fly to Kuala Lumpur from Phnom Penh than flying to nearby Bangkok.
The reason is the entrance of the first low-cost airline, Malaysia-based AirAsia, into the Cambodian market, a development that officials said will substantially increase the number of Malaysian visitors to Cambodia.
AirAsia’s daily flights, which leave Kuala Lumpur at 3:15 pm and Phnom Penh at 4:35 pm, are advertised as costing just $15 each way.
In reality, only 10,000 seats are being sold at this special rate, and once fees and taxes are added, a roundtrip flight to the Malaysian capital costs $71.50. As the 10,000 seats sell out, the actual price for roundtrip airfare rises to $101.50 and $130.50, according to the airline’s Web site.
But the price is a bargain compared to a current fare of $270 roundtrip on Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur, according to Phnom Penh’s 5 Oceans travel agency, and is still hugely competitive compared to $143 on Bangkok Airways to Bangkok.
According to statements by AirAsia Chairman Tony Fernandes, AirAsia is able to offer the lower fares by offering no free snacks, packing more customers per flight, and by negotiating lower airport fees because its flights run at off-peak times.
Khek Norinda, the spokesman for the Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, said a ground-handling fee was negotiated for AirAsia last month, but declined to reveal the amount.
“To develop the business of the international airports, SCA has constantly been poised to take into account the airlines’ needs and demands regarding those fees,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
SCA’s airport fees represent less than 20 percent of airline operating costs, Khek Norinda added.
“We are in line with other regional airports of the same category,” he wrote. “The major difference is that they are generally subsidized by public funds.”
Tourism Secretary of State Thong Khon said the government is encouraging low cost carriers to come to Cambodia to increase tourism. “That kind of airline will bring a lot of tourists.”
In the first 8 months of 2005, a total of 910,000 visitors came to Cambodia, compared to 1 million in all of 2004, he said.
Asked if full fare airlines have anything to fear from AirAsia, Sinn Chan Sereyvutha, director of planning and policy at the state secretariat of civil aviation, said that traditional carriers can coexist with it.
“Rich, high-class passengers would choose expensive airlines with high-class service,” he said.
He added that the government negotiated reduced landing fees to encourage AirAsia to come. Low-cost, Singapore-based Tiger Air is also in negotiations to enter Cambodia.