economy cabin that is the best value you can find any-
where. It’s a good position to be in because it goes be-
yond what other guys are doing. It’s a premium service,
not a business service, but it offers more room, extra little
services and is closer to those old days of transcontinen-
tal premium service.”
Strategically, it is also a new tool for ATN as new
competitive capacity has entered the market. “We are
not fighting the competition in this [premium] mar-
ket sector. With United and the new LCC competitor
[French Bee], there is a big fight going on in economy,
but we are selling more premium products and generat-
ing more revenue,” Bechonnet said.
Bechonnet is a long-haul LCC skeptic, especially in a
high-end and distant market like Tahiti—famous for its
small, boutique Bora Bora hotels with palm-roofed bungalows perched over the water.
“You can’t really be low-cost in long-haul for one simple reason: Te secret of low-cost on short-haul is about
turning around the aircraft faster and getting it back
into the air. But on an 18-hour flight to Paris? People
realize that the value for money is the same—perhaps
even better with us—once you’ve added in the cost of all
the extras that the LCC charges.
“I think the lesson that the LCCs do provide is that
it’s about making fares simple. We have been too crazy
in the airline industry, making pricing too complicated
and giving the impression of being too expensive for the
mass market. A lot of people didn’t think they could afford to fly, but then they saw the basic, naked cost of
an LCC ticket and they bought. Yet at the end of the
day, especially on long-haul flights, they will probably
pay to check a bag, they will buy a drink and a meal.
Ten they make the connection that they still ended up
“But our product is now very good. Te seat pitch is
very good. Te service is good. What we have to make
more obvious is what our true fare is relative to a low-cost fare onto which you add fees. With us, you don’t
get a bad surprise. Technology is helping us with that.”
Te other big lesson from the LCCs, Bechonnet says,
is that airlines do not need to just sell seats.
“Te digital space is a key development for us now.
We have to compete with United and other big guys like
United, so we have to be more creative,” he said. “LCCs
make some 35% of their revenue from selling things
other than the seat. So we are doing things like our con-
cierge app that helps show you where to go within the
islands and how to do it. For example, a couple returning
for an anniversary who had gone diving last time could
be offered recommendations on diving excursions along
with a 50% discount offer. We will get more revenue
while also giving customers what they want. It’s about
providing exceptional service onboard and beyond.”
Looking for room
And while ATN makes clear that 2019 is about bedding
in those Dreamliners and maintaining a competitive
edge, executive leadership has not taken its eye off the
potential that the 787 affords for extending their Asia-Pacific network beyond Auckland and Tokyo.
“We are looking at Asia, because that’s a fast-grow-ing market. And when you look at Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, it’s 15 hours. So that’s why we chose the
787-9, especially the - 9, because we knew that one day
it would allow us to open new routes such as those,”
But Monvoisin added there is a hurdle—what he describes as a “big lack” of hotel rooms in Tahiti.
“Tere are a lot of development projects being studied and we should see a growth in hotel capacity, but
it takes time,” he said. Hawaii—a popular destination
with the Japanese and into which All Nippon Airways
is adding Airbus A380s configured specifically for that
market—has around 60,000 hotel rooms compared to
Tahiti’s 27,000, Monvoisin said.
“Americans book six months ahead, while Asians typically book 60 days ahead. So all the hotel rooms go to
the Americans. Local hotels are happy with the American and French markets, and the Japanese go to Hawaii
where the rooms are,” he said.
“We don’t want to build the big hotels with 2,000
rooms. Tat’s not the Tahiti experience. People come
here for the environment, the wildlife, for the exclusivity
and to mix with the people of Tahiti. I like Hawaii and
go there frequently, but we don’t want to build Waikiki
here. But we do need rooms.
“Bora Bora is our Eiffel Tower. Everyone wants to see
Bora Bora, but we are trying to persuade people to see
the other islands as well, especially to convince them to
try the guest house product. Te hotel experience here is
high-end—four or five stars. With the guest house, you
live with the owner and they look after you, take you
fishing and to the local market. Te Europeans, Canadians and Kiwis like that experience. Te different islands
each have their own magic and their own experience and
landscapes. So we are working to get that message out
while the new hotels are being developed.”
“Our choice was one of price, for sure, but it was also about the 787’s
suitability for our long and thin market.” Mathieu Bechonnet, Air Tahiti Nui