Next year, Turkish Airlines will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its inaugural service to Japan. Turkey has become a very popular destination for Japanese travelers – the airline currently operates a daily Narita-Istanbul flight, and 5 flights a week from Osaka, with that number set to increase to daily from summer.
Heading the airline’s operations in Japan is Hasan Mutlu who has been general manager in Tokyo for the past 18 months. Japan Today catches up with him at the airline’s office in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.
How do you market Turkey as a destination to visit?
For Japanese people, Turkey is a nice destination to visit for its history and culture. Istanbul has been the center of many civilizations and religions in the past. We have wonderful natural places like Cappadocia. Besides the historical aspects, we are promoting new attractions like golf and seaside resorts.
How many services do you operate from Japan?
Right now, we have daily flights from Tokyo and Osaka to Istanbul. In winter, there are five flights from Osaka. As of next summer, Osaka will have year-round daily flights.
What about Haneda and other cities?
We have been trying to get into Haneda and it is a priority. Hopefully, either late this year or early next year, we will be able to start Haneda flights. Unfortunately, there is a problem with times. European carriers like to land here before evening and depart before midnight. But Haneda only permits them to fly between midnight and 6 a.m. which is actually not convenient.
We project high demand so we have applied for two daily Narita flights and one daily Haneda flight within 2-3 years. Elsewhere, Fukuoka is one of our main focus areas in addition to Nagoya. I am confident we will see a service sometime in the future.
Tell us about your advertising campaign using sports figures.
Our global campaign uses Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi, For Japan, we also use Olympic volleyball player Saori Kimura. Most people like sports whether it is playing or watching. So we realized it was the easiest way to reach people and increase their awareness of Turkish Airlines.
What are Turkish Airlines’ strengths?
One of our strengths is our network. We fly to 100 countries, which is more than any other airline, and to more than 220 cities which makes us the 5th biggest network in the world. This year, we will add 33 new destinations, which will make us the No. 3 network in the world.
On our long-haul flights, there are three classes – Business Class, Comfort Class which is our premium economy, and Economy. On board, we offer free Wi-Fi service. That’s different from other airlines—they have Internet but they charge for it.
Food is another of our strong points. We are proud of our great food and catering service. Turkish Airlines has won Skytrax Awards in Europe’s Best Airline category, two times in a row and also continues being the best with catering services.
Do you employ Japanese flight attendants?
No, we don’t. We have Japanese-speaking Turkish cabin crew. Japanese passengers like that. However, we do have Japanese captains. Of our more than 300 foreign captains, Japanese are No. 2.
What are some unique aspects of doing business in Japan?
This is my 17th year with Turkish Airlines and I can tell you that Japan is a great experience for me. Japanese expect the best possible service. On board, if they experience a negative thing, they don’t make a noise about it, but when they get home, they expect an explanation. They send emails to us and never forget. They take notes – positive or negative – and share it with us, which is helpful to us.
Another point about Japan is that Japanese are conservative. They still like doing business face to face and prefer travel agents when booking holidays. Web sales are steadily increasing, though.
Tell us about your fleet.
We operate Boeing 777, 737 and 738 as well as Airbus 330s. Turkish Airlines’ fleet is the 4th newest fleet in the world in terms of age.
Do you have any plan to include the fuel surcharge in the advertised fare?
Regarding fuel surcharges, at the beginning when the issue first appeared, it was confusing when consumers saw ads for cheap airfares. Then they got a shock when the final fare was much higher because of the fuel surcharge. I think that now, everyone is used to it. In Europe, the trend now to advertise the all-inclusive rate, whatever it is, including fuel surcharge, taxes, everything. But that’s not the case yet in Japan.
Istanbul is vying to host the 2020 Olympics, and that decision will be announced in September. Is your marketing campaign reflecting Istanbul’s bid?
No, not yet. We have a long way to go regarding the Olympics. Certainly, if Istanbul is awarded the Games, Turkish Airlines will be a major player. But we have some other things to do before that. Our operations are growing much faster than Istanbul Airport which is not big enough. In 2016, we will have a new airport in Istanbul, a third airport, the biggest in the world, with six runways. That will make Istanbul a real world hub.
Do you think low cost carriers are going to shake up the aviation industry?
Low cost carriers have been very successful on short-haul flights. However, it remains to be seen whether they can be competitive on long haul flights in the future. The profit margin in the aviation industry is already very low. Low cost carriers don’t have enough planes and they don’t have the global network to be viable yet.
How often do you go out to Narita to inspect the operation?
Maybe twice a month. I like to observe things because I started in operations. Narita is the smoothest airport you could ever hope to work in. Passengers are wonderful, there are no fights, no hassles, no panic.
How many staff do you have?
26 here and at Narita, and 14 in Osaka. I expect that we will be hiring more staff this year.
When you travel, what class do you fly in?
I like to fly in all classes in order to see the faces of customers, experience the service, behaviour and approach of cabin crew.
How do you like to relax when you are not working?
I try to spend as much time as I can with my 2-year-old daughter.
Can you recommend a good Turkish restaurant in Tokyo?
Yes. Burgaz Ada in Azabu-juban. They serve Ottoman cuisine and are one of Zagat’s top 50 in the world.
For more information, visit www.turkishairlines.com