KUALA LUMPUR: No-frills Malaysian carrier AirAsia launched the world's first SMS ticket reservation service yesterday with hopes of expanding its reach to 10 million mobile phone users.
Chairman Pahamin Rajab said the move followed its success with its Internet ticketing service; which recorded over 80 million ringgit (21 million dollars) in sales since May last year.
He said AirAsia had invested three million ringgit to develop the short message service (SMS) booking system, jointly with top mobile phone operator Maxis and
Dutch-based technology firm Getronics.
The service will be available Friday initially to some three million Maxis subscribers but other mobile operators are expected to come on board within the next one to two months, he said. "With this, we have covered every access to our tickets. With the increasing number of mobile phone users, we are now reaching out to even more people in Malaysia," Pajamin said.
Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, launching the SMS service, said some 42 percent of Malaysian's 23 million population owned a mobile phone compared with 11.7 percent who are Internet users. The new service would therefore allow AirAsia to reach out to nearly 10 million Malaysians, he said, praising the carrier for revolutionising air travel in the country.
Officials said it takes about eight SMSs to complete a booking at the standard rate of 0.15 ringgit for each SMS but the service comes at no additional cost. AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes said Internet booking now made up 45 percent of the company's total sales.
It is working with top bank Malayan Banking and several other banks to expand the method of online payments from just credit cards to direct debiting of customer accounts in the next two months, he said.
Fernandes said AirAsia's revenue suffered after rival national carrier Malaysia Airlines launched domestic promotions in June to counter a travel slump induced by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak.
"We hope pricing will not (continue to) be anti-competition. We do see ourselves as two different markets. It is better for us to work together, rather than creating wasteful competition," he said.
Abdullah earlier told reporters it was up to the two carriers to draw up their pricing strategies but urged the two to `be friends' and complement each other.
AirAsia last week said it hoped to launch flights to Indonesia by yearend and to Thailand from January as part of its regional expansion.
It currently has seven aircraft, and has placed orders to buy four more and lease seven, taking its fleet to 18 by end of 2004. - AFP