Garuda sees clear skies for new Vietnam route
Adianto P. Simamora The Jakarta Post Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Despite its absence for about six years, the country's flagship carrier Garuda Indonesia does not seem to be finding any difficulty in luring customers back for its new Jakarta-Ho Chi Minh City route.
In fact, all of the 134 seats were sold out for its flight from Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat Airport to Jakarta last Friday after reopening the route on Dec. 16.
Because of this, Garuda marketing and sales executive Joko Triatmoko and company spokesperson Singgih were forced to postpone their flight home after accompanying 17 travel agent representatives and nine journalists from Indonesia for a four- day tour to Vietnam in conjunction with the reopening of the route.
Garuda suspended the route in October 1997 following the late 1990s regional financial crisis after serving it for more than eight years.
Garuda now flies to Ho Chi Minh City three times a week -- on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays -- using Boeing B-737-400s. It offers two classes, business and economy.
Currently Garuda is offering a promotion package for the economy class at US$379 (the normal price is $400). The business class is offered at $655.
"Passengers will transit in Singapore but there will be no change of aircraft," Joko said.
"The flight via Singapore is comfortable because there are plenty of connecting flights to other destinations such as Amsterdam, Denpasar and Surabaya on other Garuda flights."
Singapore has another advantage as a stop-over because there are more passengers available than those departing from Jakarta.
Joko said that the total number of Indonesians visiting Vietnam was expected to increase by 30 percent to about 17,492 people in 2003, up from last year's 13,456.
Meanwhile, visitors departing from Singapore to Vietnam are expected to increase by 9 percent to 105,905 from 90,429 in 2002.
For the past six years, no Indonesian airlines have served the route and people from Indonesia have to fly other carriers mainly Singapore Airlines or Vietnam Airlines to go to Ho Chi Minh City.
Singapore Airlines flies seven times a week, while Vietnam Airlines flies 12 times a week from Singapore to Saigon.
Joko said one of the flights, GA-868, departs from Jakarta at 6:45 a.m. local time and arrives in Singapore at 9:20 a.m.(Singapore time). It then departs Singapore at 10:45 a.m. and arrives in Ho Chi Minh City at 11:45 a.m.
Meanwhile, the GA-869 flight departs Ho Chi Minh City at 1:35 p.m. and arrives in Singapore at 4:25 p.m. It departs from Singapore at 5:15 p.m. and arrives in Jakarta at 5:50 p.m. local time.
According to Joko, travelers from Indonesia were now seeking alternative tourist destinations in Asia region.
"That's why, we are optimistic that more Indonesians will visit Ho Chi Minh City in the near future," he said.
He added that Ho Chi Minh City, the economic powerhouse of Vietnam would also be one of the prominent investment destinations in the region.
Among the famous places in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as the Pearl of the Far East are the historic French-built landmarks such as the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral; the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Cong hid during the Vietnam-American war as well as boat rides on the Mekong river.
"Tourist destinations here are easy to sell, but we want first to boost awareness among the Indonesian people about Vietnam," Joko said.
In addition, said Joko, the visa-free facility for citizens of the two countries would further help encourage Indonesians to visit Vietnam.
Indonesia and Vietnam agreed on Dec. 4 to waive visa requirements for tourists from both countries.