Air France to get closer to Asian travellers

With Americans and Europeans travelling less in the wake of the September 11 crisis, getting closer to Asian travellers has become even more critical for airlines. For Air France, that has taken the form of project ÒEnvol AsiaÓ or Inflight Asia Ð a corporate move to be more Òaware and sensitiveÓ to cultural differences and sensitivities of its Asian clients. The carrier is teaching its crew cultural sensitivity relevant to their flights, including language skills, customs, and history, after recognising Asia as an Òincreasingly important marketÓ, said Jacques Clabaut, regional director, Air France, South-east Asia and Australia. ÒThere is much more difference between an Indian and Korean person than between French and German or even French and South American ... all Asian cultures are so different from each other,Ó he said. Air France said the cabin service training overhaul project was created internally back in 1999 when the carrier saw the importance of the Asian market. Recently, it flew in more than a dozen of its cabin crew to Singapore to show the media they knew more than their ÒKonichiwaÓ, ÒNamasteÓ, ÒNi HaoÓ and ÒAnnyong HasseyÓ Ð terms for greetings in Japanese, Hindi, Mandarin and Korean. Clabaut said Asian travellers were used to higher levels of service, citing Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific as examples, adding that European airlines, including Air France , needed to do more,ÕÕ ÒAsian customers expect to be treated with a high degree of respect but we must offer them more than that to retain their loyalty,Ó he said. The crew have been sent to several Asian countries for short immersion programmes to learn more about the culture. For instance, last June, 13 cabin crew spent a week in a Beijing university on a crash course in Mandarin. The airline also provides dedicated interpreters on some flights to countries with greater language barriers such as China and Korea. A special booklet on each Asian country is available for cabin crew at all times. The booklet has basic information on the country, some basic words and cultural taboos. Currently, Japan, India, China and Korea are covered in these booklets with Thailand and Philippines coming up next.

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