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Viva Macau's cheap offers are no flights of fancy

Mimi Lau

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Macau-based budget airline with two 767 jets and some 100 cabin crew has begun low-cost flights to Phuket and Jakarta from as little as HK$88. However, Hong Kong tourism officials have cast doubts on the service, saying the extra costs and time involved for passengers traveling to and from Macau to take the flights are a drawback.

The HK$88 promotional one-way air fares from Macau to Phuket in Thailand and Jakarta in Indonesia will be offered from the middle of this month to the end of January.

Andrew Pyne, chief executive and founding partner of the airline, Viva Macau, said 10 percent of the almost 180 economy-class seats will be sold for HK$88. The rest of the seats will be sold from HK$288 to HK$488 during the period to test the market's response, Pyne said.

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The first two flights to the Maldives, starting December 21, will cost HK$888. The twice-weekly flights will be the first direct services from the China region to the Maldives.

Oasis Hong Kong is offering long- haul flights to London for HK$1,000.

Viva Macau's business-class seats will cost about the same as other airlines' economy-class seats. Travelers will have to pay for their own food and drinks on board.

"This is a genuine commitment to drive prices down and encourage more visitors to come to Macau," Pyne said, adding there will be cheap Macau hotel deals too.

By next March, air travelers can check in at the Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan before taking the ferry to Macau to board flights.

Arthur Lai Wing-hong, Viva Macau's commercial director, said they expected to break even in the fifth year of operation by targeting customers from Macau and the Pearl River Delta.

While avoiding expensive airports to reduce operating costs, Viva Macau plans to expand its routes to Saigon, Singapore, Dubai, Sydney and Nagoya by putting five more jets into service by the end of next year.

The company's total capitalization is US$11 million (HK$85.8 million) and it expects a further US$35 million injection from Asian investors next year.

Kwan Kin Travel director Chuck Fong Cheuk-yuan said Macau's rapid development of its infrastructure, coupled with increased tourism facilities, are becoming an attraction for Hong Kong people going to Macau.

However, chairman of the Travel Industry Council Ronnie Ho Oak-ting remains doubtful.

"It's hard to say now. You've to add up other costs like ferry trips to Macau and transportation to Macau's airport, which would be at least HK$400 more," Ho said.

Ken Chad, commercial director of Oasis Hong Kong, said it is good to see new products and services because it is good for consumers.


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