Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has teamed up with chef Adam Liaw as it seeks to increase its awareness in Australia and considers adding additional flights to this part of the world.
Australians’ deepening love affair with Japan has led to a resurgence in the Australia-Japan market, with government figures showing the number of travellers between the two countries jumping 10.3 per cent to 1.3 million in 2016/17.
Japan is Australia’s 10th largest international passenger market, based on uplift and discharge data. Today, the traffic between Australia and Japan is far more evenly balanced, compared with the 1990s when it was almost exclusively Japanese visiting Australia.
ANA vice president and general manager for Oceania Ryo Sadayuki says the Star Alliance member’s daily Sydney-Tokyo Narita service has exceeded expectations since launching in December 2015.
“I would say it is greater than I expected,” Sadayuki told Australian Aviation in an interview on Monday after officially unveiling Liaw as the airline’s celebrity culinary ambassador.
“Every month we have more bookings than last year, so it well indicates that we are doing great and very happy to see more and more Australian people on our flight.”
ANA’s return to Sydney at the end of 2015 with Boeing 787 Dreamliners ended a 16-year absence in the Australian market.
Operating as an overnight flight in both directions, the morning arrival into the close-in Haneda airport offers travellers the widest range of domestic connections throughout Japan.
“Early morning arrival from Sydney enables everyone to take a morning flight to Sapporo and begin skiing before lunchtime,” Sadayuki said.
“I believe it is definitely ANA’s core mission to assist Australian travellers to experience Japan utilising our extensive domestic network at Haneda.”
Further, an interline agreement with Virgin Australia provides connections beyond Sydney.
Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) show ANA’s daily service carried 134,107 passengers in calendar 2016, the first full year of operation.
The inbound service had average load factors of 83.4 per cent, while its Sydney departures took off with average load factors of 85.3 per cent.
Sadayuki noted the number of Australians visiting Japan had exceeded the number of Japanese travelling to Australia for the first time in 2015.
The growth in the market has also led to other carriers adding more capacity on Australia-Japan.
ANA rival Japan Airlines recently added Tokyo Narita-Melbourne nonstop flights – on top of its existing Sydney-Tokyo Narita offering.
Qantas too has added two new Japanese routes – from Brisbane and Melbourne to Tokyo Narita – with a third on the way after announcing a seasonal Sydney-Osaka Kansai schedule over the peak summer holiday period.
Asked for his thoughts recent moves by other carriers, Sadayuki said there was enough demand to meet the increase in capacity.
“I don’t think it’s too much,” Sadayuki said.
“The demand has been growing very steadily and I really welcome their decisions to increase frequencies because I believe those capacity increase will again stimulate the demand.”
Moreover, he said ANA was also open to considering further expansion in Australia, noting the airline served both Brisbane and Sydney during those heady days 20 years ago.
“We will carefully look at it. We are always keen on thinking about something additional,” Sadayuki said. “I don’t know what it is and I don’t know when it is. It depends on the market and aircraft availability and so forth.”
“The Australian market is very important for ANA right now because since our inauguration we have had very high load factors and still growing booking tendencies and so forth.”
“Many of our senior management are really confident on the Australian market right now.”
As part of efforts to lift ANA’s profile in Australia, the airline has appointed Australian chef Liaw as a celebrity culinary ambassador.
Liaw has designed a number of Japanese dishes for ANA’s daily NH880 flight from Sydney that will be served over a six-month period from December 2017 to May 2018.
The Masterchef winner, television chef and cookbook author, as well as goodwill ambassador for Japanese cuisine, joins other Australians such as Luke Mangan (Virgin Australia), Matt Moran (Singapore Airlines), Neil Perry (Qantas) and Poh Ling Yeow (Malaysia Airlines) as chefs who have lent their expertise in collaboration with an airline.
The dishes were officially unveiled to invited guests and media at an event in Sydney on Monday and included Japanese inspired beef short rib braised in sweet soy sauce and Australian whisky for business class and a Okinawan beef brisket taco rice to be offered to premium economy and economy passengers.
Liaw said his creations underwent rigorous testing and refinement, including in his own kitchen at home over a 12-month period, before being added to the menu. ANA uses caterer Alpha Flight Services as its food and beverage supplier out of Sydney.
“I personally think it is one of most challenging things you can do in the food world just because there are so many considerations you have to take into account,” Liaw told Australian Aviation after Monday’s menu launch.
“I’ve very much enjoyed the process, I think we’ve come up with a series of menus that works extremely well.”
Liaw said being a very frequent flyer for many years, particularly when working for The Walt Disney Company in Tokyo, had given him a great perspective on what makes a good airline meal.
“When you travel as much as I have, I’ve probably been on a plane at least twice a week for 20 years now, all the meals kind of drift into one, you can’t really remember the last meal that he had on a plane that really stood out,” Liaw explained.
“But there was this one dish that I always had flying between Tokyo and Shanghai on ANA that always stood out for me. It was a very, very simple soba salad and I looked forward to it every single time.”
“I probably had it every second Monday morning at 11AM for about six years. If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t have kept flying with the airline to be honest.”
And he has a message for those who are quick to malign what is served at 36,000 feet, noting that advances in aircraft and food technology, not to mention the investment from airlines, has totally transformed the dining-in-the-sky experience.
“We are getting a lot smarter with our airline food. It used to be the meal that everyone complained about out of habit but now you can have some really fantastic meals on airplanes,” Liaw said.
“And the commitment from airlines such as ANA to producing the best possible food has changed a huge amount as well.
“If you are the kind of person who still looks down on it, I think you have got to come and try something that might actually change your mind.”
Sadayuki praised Liaw’s broad knowledge and deep insight into Japanese food, which was illustrated through the chef’s 10-part Destination Flavour: Japan series that was shown on SBS here in Australia.
“I am quite sure that Adam as a chef and am ambassador, and ANA as an airline can deliver a fantastic bridge over the two nations and substantially celebrate both cultures and places,” Sadayuki said.
“The major objective is to raise awareness of ANA and Japan among Australian people. In that respect I believe he is the best person to work with.”