MANILA -- Capital A chief executive officer Tony Fernandes said he is optimistic about the growth of tourism in the Philippines despite rising inflation.
Inflation quickened to 5.3 percent in August after slowing down for six months, following increases in fuel and food prices.
"I think pretty, pretty clear, Visa has shown, and as has Mastercard if you cut anything, you cut food before you cut flight. People wanna travel," he said.
"So I think traveling is still number one in people's minds. Inflation's not gonna be there forever. And inflation, at the end of the day, salaries go up as well."
"I can't build a business for just this month. I'm building a business for the next 5 years," Fernandes said. "And the numbers are on my side. [The] Philippines is like 100 million people--the best kept secret, the economy is growing," he added.
The executive also said he enjoys doing business with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and his cabinet.
"Whether you like it or not, the government's doing a good job from a businessman's point of view," he noted.
"President Marcos is approachable, he has a Cabinet that's full of technocrats, (understands) business, and as a business leader, I just met them all in Malaysia and in Singapore recently, it's a pleasure doing business with them."
Fernandes spoke with Philippine reporters at the sidelines of an event in Malaysia, where he announced the renaming of AirAsia Digital, Capital A's digital arm, to Move.
"Why Move? Because that's what we do. We move people. We move money as well," he said at the event.
Fernandes explained that Move is composed of 2 companies: their financial technology arm BigPay, and AirAsia SuperApp, which will now be renamed AirAsia Move.
The low-cost carrier's app currently allows Filipinos to book flights and hotels and shop for duty-free items when they travel.
The executive noted, however, that they now hope to launch a ride-hailing service in more parts of ASEAN.
"We think a big part of traveling is also mobility on the ground: going to the airport, coming from the airport...moving around," he said.
"Are we the size of Grab? No. Do we wanna be the size of Grab? No. We wanna specialize in airport rides, we wanna specialize in tourists," he explained.
Fernandes told ABS-CBN News he had a "good" meeting with Philippine Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista in June on their planned ride-sharing business in the country.
AirAsia Ride is already available in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
The businessman also said he is keen on forging partnerships with food businesses in the Philippines to provide travelers with more dining options, so they know where to get a good meal when they visit a tourist spot.
"We can do a dining experience. All those restaurants in Fort Bonifacio or Cebu or whatever. I went to Cebu, I had no bloody idea where we will have food. Where do you look?" he said.
He also said the new Move app will allow users to chat with one another to share travel tips and recommendations with one another.
"Are we trying to be the next Line? No. We're not. We're a supplementary messenger. And a messenger will add value--taking the best out of Line and Kakao and WhatsApp to give travelers and people who are interested in traveling...so if you wanna know the best nasi padang in Jakarta, there could be a group," he explained.
He also said that they may tap more into artificial intelligence to make their travel experience better for their customers.
"We'll develop another bot which will help you to make your travel plans better using AI," he said.
"Think of how many times when you travel, you need to go to 4 or 5 different sites. And download apps every time you go to a new country. This is about making the universal travel app that will probably solve 90 percent of what you want when you travel."
He also said they are boosting their rewards program, by making points earned in their app work as well as cash.
"We are making our rewards like cash and we believe people would then spend more with us 'cause they earn these points and they can redeem them," he said.
"And we're gonna build NFTs with our reward program...so if you buy an AirAsia cap, maybe that utility will allow you to board first every time, or you get a free nasi lemak."
Fernandes said the tourism space will be massive in the years to come.
"If I say to someone in London, name me a tourism spot in the Philippines, they probably won't be able to. Closest may be Cebu, right? But (how about) Boracay, Palawan, Tacloban?"
"And when you have one of the most beautiful countries in ASEAN that no one knows about, so, tourism is like that. Now if I just think about people in ASEAN, 700 million people in ASEAN, how many of them have visited [the] Philippines? Very few."
"If I look at Filipinos, how many, apart from work, have really traveled to Bangkok, Bali, Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur? Very few. So travel is just starting," he said.