Air France hopes for suite success
Asia Briefing was steeped in luxury in Shanghai last week, as it bore witness to the launch of Air France’s new first-class La Première suite, a curtained-off private cabin that will debut on its 19 Boeing 777-300s from September.
Each of the 777s will be fitted with four of the new suites, which will contain a 61cm high-definition touch screen, an ottoman for visitors, a private wardrobe and a seat which converts to a 2.01m-long and 77cm-wide lie-flat bed, topped by a separate mattress. La Première marks a €50 million investment in 76 suites, with just four per aircraft.
Once inside this luxurious cabin, passengers will have access to a full range of entertainment options in 12 languages accessed through a 61-cm HD touchscreen display. The fully adjustable seats also have massage functions.
Michelin-starred chefs, including Joel Robuchon, Regis Marcon, Guy Martin, and Michel Roth, will prepare the dining options, and passengers will be able to choose from a wine list that is updated every two months. All meals will be served over Bernardaud-designed porcelain china, bevelled glasses, and Christofle flatware. The unveiling of the suites was part of a large press event in Shanghai, with scores of journalists from all over the world invited to China’s financial capital to witness the suites.
“Our new La Première suite, from among all our new products and services, is the one that best represents our commitment to service excellence and a French travel experience. It illustrates our intention to recover and our global ambition,” Air France chairman and chief executive Frédéric Gagey told the assembled journalists.
Gagey said Air France would put bigger aeroplanes on key routes out of China, and it plans to deploy daily Shanghai to Paris flights on Airbus 380 aircraft, up from four a week currently.
Air France introduced the superjumbos, which can carry more than 500 passengers, on the route last autumn. A380 flights from Hong Kong will start on May 27th.
It is the latest evidence of how important the Chinese market is to the big carriers. China is Air France’s second biggest long-haul market after the US, making up about 10 per cent of revenues from such flights.
First-class travellers account for less than 2 per cent of long-haul income, said Air France’s head of passenger business Bruno Matheu, but with average ticket prices of about €9,000, the service is highly profitable.
The launch of the Air France product comes shortly after Etihad Airways revealed its new premium cabin, which is also a private, hotel-style suite and will also hope to woo rich Chinese travellers.
Luxury consumer market
China is expected to become the largest luxury consumer market by 2015, and it is fast becoming one of the most important travel markets in the world, with some 200 million Chinese expected to make overseas trips every year by 2020. Paris is one of the top destinations for Chinese tourists.
While overall economic growth is slowing, the luxury end of the market is growing strongly. Last month, Ireland’s Li-Ann Smal was one of the models brought over for a show to launch Burberry’s new Shanghai flagship store – the city’s eighth – which blurs physical and digital worlds with a dynamic illuminated facade on the outside and more than 40 video screens on the inside.
It is “part event space, part entertainment hub, and part store”, and was inspired by the global flagship at 121 Regent Street in London.
The shop’s animated facade reacts to changes in natural light, while inside radio-frequency identification technology is woven into select apparel, which triggers multimedia content on mirrors to showcase runway footage and product videos.
The China luxury market is growing on both fashion runways and airport runways, it seems. Some of the luxury purchases are decidedly Asia-specific. A glittery show by shoe designer Jimmy Choo has completely sold out in Asia after it featured in a Korean TV show.
The €450 pump known as the Abel was worn by Korean star Jun Ji-hyun in the second episode of the Korean soap opera, My Love From The Star. Before long, pictures of the shoe spread like wildfire around social media, and shoe shops all over the world were reporting shoppers coming in with smartphone photographs of the shoe, eager to snap them up.