Everyone likes vanilla, but do they really?

Courtesy Bloomberg

Courtesy Bloomberg

Following the breakup of AirAsia Japan between partners All Nippon Airways (ANA) and AirAsia, with the latter acquiring the stake of the latter, ANA has renamed the budget carrier. It is now Vanilla Air.

Vanilla Air president Tomonori Ishii explained the choice of the name as follows: “We chose vanilla as our brand name because it is popular and loved by everyone in the world.”

Vanilla Air as a new airline will commence operations in late December, targeting travellers heading for resort destinations. There was speculation that it might merge with ANA’s other budget carrier – Peach Aviation – based in Kansai, but it looked like Vanilla will continue on its own operating out of Narita. Whereas in the past year its predecessor was focused on domestic destinations within Japan, Mr Ishii said Vanilla Air aims to fly beyond Japan to other resort destinations in Asia. He said: “”We will begin with short-distance services but want to expand the range to mid- and long-distances in line with ANA’s branding strategy.”

Vanilla Air will start with two airplanes and increase the number to 10 by 2015.

Will the renewed branding help Vanilla Air turn round the loss of its predecessor in its inaugural and only year of operations to the tune of 3.5 billion yen (US$40 million)? The erstwhile partners had blamed the split on differences in strategy management, with ANA suggesting that AirAsia did not understand the profile of the Japanese market. Time will tell if the shift from online marketing – which is the mainstay of the AirAsia strategy – to working more with travel agents will boost the new airline’s bottom-line. However, Air Vanilla is not ditching online selling altogether; it will introduce a new online system that will appeal to the Japanese market, underscoring the importance of local knowledge.

It is a clear indication from what Mr Ishii had said that Vanilla Air will align itself with the ANA ethos, suggesting a stronger involvement of the parent airline which was perhaps restricted by the shared responsibility of two partner airlines with different backgrounds. The conflict that led to the breakup, with AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes declaring that he would not want to ever again work in partnership with another airline, told the familiar tale of how there can only be one boss. That, however, does not explain how AirAsia Japan’s rival Jetstar Japan – a joint-venture between Qantas and Japan Airlines – could outperform the former.

Is it therefore any wonder why a name like AirAsia Japan did not work, since it was not wholly owned by the Malaysia-based airline?

Mr Ishii thought Vanilla Air was “a very cute name”. It does not matter if some people outside Japan also thought of vanilla as being bland and boring, and in need of dressing. Maybe that is an appropriate appellation for a budget carrier, one without frills. But what matters more is that the Japanese people like it, as they are ever so fond of “cute” things from Hello Kitty to “boyfriend pillows”. Kawaii, they say.

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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