Jetstar takes off in struggling Japanese market

AUSTRALIA’S falling dollar and a big sell by Japan’s queen of pop are driving huge gains for Jetstar in defiance of the drop in Japanese visitors.The Qantas budget carrier says inbound passenger numbers this financial year have surged 10 per cent, with 19 weekly services averaging loads at 80 per cent capacity.

Jetstar chief executive Bruce Buchanan remains optimistic about continued growth, a view that contrasts with the grim forecast given this week by Tourism Australia.

The nation’s peak travel industry body says foreign tourist numbers to Australia have plunged amid fears that hard-pressed domestic tourism operators will not get a lifeline.

To stimulate the Japanese market, Jetstar spent $20 million on brand awareness initiatives in Japan last financial year and has earmarked another $10 million worth of projects.

A big part of the marketing budget went on gaining approvals from the Japanese Government to become a licensed tour operator and to create an online Japan-based travel business., the new business, now attracts up to 40 per cent of the airline’s bookings from the greater Tokyo area.

Figures show that more than one in five Japanese travelling with Jetstar – or 22 per cent of its Japanese customer base – are new to international travel.

Since launching the Japanese service in March 2007, passenger numbers have increased from only 34,000 for the March to June 30 period in 2007, to 307,000 last financial year.

Jetstar chiefs are reluctant to provide the latest July to November figures other than to say they are running well above 150,000 and 10 per cent above the same period in 2007.

“We are showing that it is possible to operate as a retailer as well as servicing wholesalers,” spokesman Simon Westaway said.

The demand contrasts markedly with the hurt Jetstar suffered 18 months ago when the yen was trading at a 16-year high of 106 to the Australian dollar so, each time the yen retreated, Jetstar incurred a $3 million loss.

That compares with yesterday’s rate of yen 62.22 buying one Australian dollar, significantly cutting the cost of a plane ticket to Australia.

But the rises and falls in currency trading are not the only factors contributing to the sales turnaround.

The other weapon in the airline’s sales arsenal has beenBecky, the 23-year-old pop queen and TV presenter who Jetstar brought to Australia in February last year and filmed at top holiday spots.

On prime-time Japanese television Becky was shown scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and visiting the Opera House.

Jetstar plans to increase its 19 A330 Airbus return flights a week, from Cairns and the Gold Coast to Osaka and Tokyo, to 21 by the start of March.

Geoff Easdown

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