MANILA - Nationalism is the biggest challenge to the growth of regional companies in Southeast Asia, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said.
Fernandes said having homegrown Southeast Asian companies can help the region compete globally. He cited how ride-sharing service Grab is competing against Uber in the region.
"People are looking at, well, should I protect my individual country as opposed to looking at ASEAN?" Fernandes told ABS-CBN News on the sidelines of the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit.
"ASEAN has lots more to do and the challenges we face are really nationalism more than anything," he said.
Fernandes said he was pushing to have AirAsia own 100 percent of its operations in Southeast Asian countries to cut costs and create more jobs.
AirAsia, co-founded by Fernandes, has grown to become Asia's largest low-cost airline since its founding in the 1990s
In 2016, the airline flew 56.6 million people, operating a fleet of 174 Airbus A320 jets to 109 destinations. It connects all 10 countries in ASEAN.
"That is AirAsia's challenge. That's ASEAN’s challenge as well whether to put aside vested interest, put people first and put the greater good of the common market," he said.
"We’re making progress in showing that it makes much more sense to act as one," he said.
Fernandes said AirAsia was focusing on connecting second and third-tier cities in the region for growth.