Air New Zealand is to start direct flights between Auckland and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam as the latest move in the carrier’s Pacific Rim strategy, and takes the Kiwi carrier’s route network to a total of thirty international destinations.
The airline will initially fly a 234-seater Boeing 767-300ER aircraft three times weekly between June and October 2016. The new flights would appear to largely be a way of dipping its toe in the waters of outbound tourism to Vietnam, a country which has not previously seen direct flights to New Zealand, but New Zealand’s booming tourist industry will also likely see inbound opportunities from Vietnam’s growing middle class.
“Vietnam is an increasingly popular leisure destination with the number of Kiwis visiting the country up about 20 per cent in the past year. It’s a holiday spot that has huge appeal and we’re confident that by offering a direct service even more Kiwis will be keen to explore it,” Air New Zealand’s chief executive officer Christopher Luxon said. “Our entry point of Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam provides the ideal gateway for visitors to experience its diversity.”
Indeed, many New Zealanders are choosing Vietnam as something of a replacement for Bali, given a combination of the security situation there and the desire to get off the well-worn traditional southeast Asian tourist path. In recent years, Vietnam’s tourism and expatriate culture has grown significantly, including as part of the digital nomad trend where creative entrepreneurs set up web business in countries with a low cost of living, an exciting lifestyle and decent Internet connections – all also useful for the modern connected traveller on an overseas experience wanting to share Snapchat and Instagram videos with friends back home or around the world.
The flight between Auckland Airport and Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport is just under 4,800nm and expected to take approximately eleven hours, the airline said in a statement. Vietnam-bound travellers must currently connect in Australia or Asia, and Air New Zealand has codeshares in operation with Singapore Airlines to Ho Chi Minh City in the south, Da Nang on the country’s south central coast, and Hanoi in the north.
“Air New Zealand’s new service to Vietnam is significantly more convenient, and quicker than current indirect options. It will also provide a direct link for Vietnamese travellers coming to New Zealand and we look forward to welcoming them,” Luxon said.
Passengers will find an older product on board Air New Zealand’s twenty year old Boeing 767-300ER, with 24 cradle sleeper seats in a relatively narrow 2-2-2 layout in business class and 206 seats pitched from 31-33 inches in the standard 2-3-2 configuration in economy, with no premium economy cabin.
With the arrival of the airline’s remaining seven Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners on order, outfitted with 302 seats across three cabins, the airline is displacing its five remaining Auckland-based 767 workhorses. Operating relatively smaller available aircraft that might otherwise be surplus to requirements on a seasonal route to test largely outbound market demand is a smart move for Air New Zealand, especially given the airline’s strong domestic brand position and significant ability to sell both directly and through the travel trade.
With two more Dreamliners to come than the 767s they are replacing, and the looming possibility of overcapacity on US-bound routes with the entry of American Airlines and United (starting next June and July, respectively) it wouldn’t be surprising if Air New Zealand were to announce further initial test services to new markets over the next months. Five months ago, the airline announced it was extending the operational lives of these aircraft for purposes that sound strikingly similar to the Vietnam route.
The new services are set to go on sale in early 2016 subject to government approval, but with a recently revised and significantly liberalised air services agreement between New Zealand and Vietnam it would seem unlikely if this were to be an issue.