The airline founder building Asia’s next super app
AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes is building what he hopes will be the region’s next “super app” as he tackles the coronavirus travel crisis.
It wants to compete with the likes of Grab, GoJek and WeChat with an all-in-one mobile platform for food delivery, banking, shopping, payment and travel.
As the head of the airline, he has been looking for new ways to generate income while his planes are on the ground.
AirAsia struggled during the pandemic and cut 30% of its staff.
In an interview with the BBC, Fernandes said he spent his time during the travel crisis improving the AirAsia app.
“The recession has been a blessing in disguise as it has allowed us to focus more on it. Running an airline takes a long time, but we have been given the opportunity and time to focus on our digital business.”
AirAsia already has a “rich database” of 1 million users and has applied for banking licenses in Malaysia and Singapore to help it expand region-wide in lending and wealth management.
BigPay, which also offers users a messaging service, has focused on super apps such as Singapore-based Grab, GoJek in Indonesia and Meituan in China.
“AirAsia has always been a digital company. We were one of the first airlines to sell online. It is in our blood,” added Fernandes, who is also a major shareholder of the English football club Queen’s Park Rangers (QPR).
“I know a super app sounds like a lofty goal, but Grab and GoJek also started small as a food or mobility app. Plus, people also questioned me the same way when I said I wanted to launch AirAsia.”
Mr. Fernandes’ airline has now grown to be Asia’s largest budget airline.
Last year AirAsia launched its own record label called RedRecords in partnership with Universal Music. The goal is to discover Southeast Asian stars who will appeal to a Western audience.
The first big name, Thai pop star Jannine Weigel, has already amassed millions of followers on social media.
“Guys, we have something special with the record label. Koreans have shown how Asian music can attract a global audience with K-pop and there is huge potential for Southeast Asia.”
“This also helps us engage with a younger audience and offers a lot of content for our app.”