Opening the door to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta – AirAsia enters and VietJet expands in Can Tho

Tourism for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region is poised to surge following a spate of new flights from AirAsia and VietJet. Vietnam is heavily promoting the Mekong Delta as a new tourism region but until this week it did not have any scheduled international services.


Highlights:

  • Tourism in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region is booming this year, driven by new flights from AirAsia and VietJet;
  • AirAsia is launching two international routes to the Mekong Delta’s main city Can Tho while VietJet is adding five domestic routes;
  • Seat capacity at Can Tho Airport will be up nearly 50% year over year following the launch of the seven new routes.

AirAsia became the first foreign airline to serve Can Tho Airport on 8-Apr-2019, when it launched four weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur. Its affiliate Thai AirAsia is adding three weekly flights from Bangkok from 2-May-2019 giving Can Tho seven weekly flights from the AirAsia Group and 1,260 weekly one-way seats.

Local LCC VietJet also just announced a major expansion at Can Tho with the 26-Apr-2019 launch of five domestic routes. VietJet is adding a daily flight from Haiphong; four weekly flights from Da Lat, Nha Trang and Vinh; and three weekly flights from Than Hoa.

VietJet already operates five daily flights to Can Tho including three from Hanoi and two from Da Nang. The additional 23 weekly flights to the five new destinations will give VietJet 58 weekly flights at Can Tho, increasing its capacity to the Mekong Delta by nearly 70% to over 10,500 weekly one-way seats (based on CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG data).

CHART – VietJet is the largest carrier at Can Tho, just ahead of national carrier Vietnam AirlinesSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 08-Apr-2019)

The LCC is already the largest airline at Can Tho, just ahead of Vietnam Airlines. The flag carrier currently operates six daily flights to Can Tho, including three to Hanoi and one each to Da Nang, Con Dao and Phu Quoc. The Con Dao and Phu Quoc routes are operated with ATR 72 turboprops while Da Nang and Hanoi are served with A321s.

Start-up Bamboo Airways also competes on the core Can Tho-Hanoi route with one daily A319 flight. There are no services between Can Tho and Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh, as the two are less than 200km apart.

Can Tho is the largest city and economic hub of the Mekong Delta, which is known for its floating markets, pottery villages and picturesque canals. Although the region now has relatively limited tourism infrastructure, the local government has been working to develop the industry. Under a new development master plan the Mekong Delta is expected to become one of seven major tourism regions of Vietnam by 2030.

A lack of direct services has until now been a major impediment. While tourists can drive from Ho Chi Minh to Can Tho the trip takes around four hours. While the Da Nang and Hanoi services help attract tourists, new point-to-point domestic services to other major Vietnamese tourism destinations such as Da Lat, Nha Trang and Haiphong will make it easier for international tourists to include Can Tho in their Vietnam itineraries. Da Lat is a popular mountain tourist town, Nha Trang is a popular beach town and Haiphong is the gateway to Ha Long Bay (a famous UNSECO heritage site).

The new international services from AirAsia are even more crucial as they provide Mekong Delta’s emerging tourism industry direct access to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok (and perhaps onwards). These flights should be able to attract new visitors from Malaysia and Thailand looking for a short holiday in a beautiful less travelled part of Vietnam while providing a plethora of new one-stop connections from other key source markets such as Australia, India and Singapore.

The new flights from AirAsia and VietJet will generate more than 5,500 weekly one-way seats – a significant figure given Can Tho Airport prior to this month had only around 13,000 weekly one-way seats.

CHART – Can Tho’s annual seat capacity tripled from 2014 to 2018, exceeding 1 million for the first time in 2018, and was up around another 20% in 1Q2019Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 08-Apr-2019)

The 13,000 one-way seats in Mar-2018 was already a record high level of capacity. Can Tho’s annual seat capacity tripled from 2014 to 2018, exceeding 1 million for the first time in 2018, and was up around another 20% in 1Q2019. Seat capacity will be up nearly 50% in May-2019 (once all seven new routes are launched) compared to May-2018.

Symbolising the importance of the new services. the five new VietJet routes were announced on 6-Apr-2019 at an event in Can Tho attended by Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. VietJet chairwoman Nguyen Thanh Ha stated the “new routes will not only create convenient traveling opportunities for local people and tourists by safe, modern air transportation, but also promote foreign exchange and contribute to increase investment”.