AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes was awarded the prestigious Nikkei Asia Prize in Tokyo today for his contributions to the growth of Asia.
The prize, given by leading Japanese newspaper publisher Nikkei Inc., recognizes Tony's role in democratizing travel in Asia. Tony, in helming best low-cost airline AirAsia, removed air travel from the clutches of the elite by offering low fares affordable to everyone. He also created a massive network of mostly Asian destinations, promoting travel and tourism in the region and contributing to economic growth.
"Under his leadership, AirAsia revolutionized the air travel industry in the region by pioneering the discount carrier phenomenon. As a result, air travel became widely accessible to people from all walks of life, boosting travel in the region," Nikkei Inc. said.
The awarding body also recognized Tony's "achievements in remaking the company into one of the most successful international airlines in Southeast Asia despite the recent economic slowdown of the airline industry."
The award is a timely recognition for AirAsia, which is hoping to start Malaysia-Japan flights in 2010. AirAsia plans to make Kuala Lumpur the premier gateway to ASEAN for Japanese tourists. It is also hoping to offer low-fare flights to Japan to the 600-million strong ASEAN population.
"We're here to link more communities and to grow travel and tourism in Asia. We look forward to providing more links between the ASEAN region and the rest of Asia, including Japan. Links between countries play an integral part in strengthening Asia economically, socially and politically, and we are committed to helping achieve this," said Tony.
Tony is the only airline executive to have received the award. He is also the first Malaysian individual to be given the award since the launch of the annual Nikkei Asia Prizes in 1996.
Tony has tirelessly championed the ASEAN region, where AirAsia is based, as a premier travel and tourism destination. Through AirAsia, Tony created "sky bridges" that link the communities of ASEAN and that link the region to many more cities in Asia, Australia and Europe. AirAsia's "sky bridges," utilized by more than 92 million guests to date, have greatly contributed to the economic growth and social integration in the region.
Tony grew AirAsia with the slogan Now everyone can fly. In eight years, AirAsia grew from an airline with two aircraft, one destination and 250 employees to an airline with 92 aircraft, approximately 70 destinations and a staff of 7,000. AirAsia is now widely regarded as THE ASEAN airline, and it is the largest and most successful low-cost airline in Asia.
Tony's contributions to the region also extend to his launch of regional sports development initiatives such as the ASEAN Basketball League; AirAsia ASEAN Driver Development Program, which provides training support for would-be professional race car drivers from the region; and the AirAsia MotoGP program, which supports regional motorsports talents.