While his finance-major classmates went on to work in banks and security companies in Taiwan, Yu Ping Tseng holds the title of General Manager of China Airlines’ Kyushu/Yamaguchi branch. Although he began without interest in planes Yu Ping has spent the past 14 years in the industry, which he describes as “interesting and dynamic”. Starting out in the airline’s Economic Analysis Department, he progressed through many roles before taking on his current GM status in Fukuoka two years ago. He recalls his most unusual task while working in the Aircraft Management Department, where he was put in charge selling an unused airplane. The job included a trip with potential buyers to view the plane in the desert in USA before he proudly sold it to FedEx. With lots of aircraft knowledge, along with his finance background and experience in route management, Yu Ping now heads up the team in Fukuoka. He is currently focused on pushing China Airlines’ web sales- offering special online promotions to build a deeper, more direct relationship with customers. Another project he holds dear is a chartered flight for school excursions from Kyushu to Taipei, in an effort to strengthen cultural ties between the two regions. As a foreigner in Fukuoka, Yu Ping is grateful for the great personal relationships he continues to build. China Airlines flies from Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Miyazaki.
Tell us about your career. How did you became the branch manager of China Airlines in Fukuoka?
I joined China Airlines in 2000, so this is my 14th year working in China Airlines. I started out in the Economic Analysis Department – analyzing the company’s route performance and evaluating some investment projects. Then, after working for two and a half years, I was transferred to our Aircraft Management Department in Taiwan – handling the aircraft purchasing, leasing and selling business. During that time I gained a lot of aircraft related knowledge. Next, I was transferred to Tokyo as Deputy General Manager of the Tokyo branch office. I stayed there for three years. After that I transferred to Taipei again, to the passenger sales division of the Route Management Department. Finally, I transferred to Fukuoka in July 2011.
And you came straight into the GM position in Fukuoka?
Yes, I did. I’ve been in Fukuoka for 1 year and 9 months as General Manager.
How long will you be here?
Normally in our company one term is around three years, so I’m supposed to stay here for another year at least. But it may be shorter, because China Airlines has recently added more direct flights between China and Taiwan. We have expanded to many destinations in China. So the internal rotation in the company becomes more and more frequent, and our terms can be shortened. I hope I’ll be here for longer!
How long has China Airlines been flying to Fukuoka?
Since 1976, so we have been here for 37 years. Actually China Airlines cultivated the Fukuoka market quite a long time ago, and quite deeply. Our schedule is designed for the convenience of the local market. Our flight to Taipei has a morning departure from Fukuoka at 10:10 am, and the return flight arrives back in Fukuoka in the evening, at 8:35 pm. We park one airplane in Fukuoka airport. This is for the convenience of Japanese travellers.
What routes do you have now?
In Kyushu we have three scheduled flights: Fukuoka to Taipei, Kagoshima to Taipei, and Miyazaki to Taipei. Between Kyushu and Taiwan we have 20 flights per week. And in Japan we have 12 destinations, from which we fly 125 flights per week between Japan and Taiwan.
How is business? Are your flights full?
Fukuoka Airport has become more and more competitive over the past few years. And Taiwan is one of the most popular destinations for Japanese customers, so we enjoy our business a lot in Kyushu. Our flights are quite full – the annual average is around 70% full.
How many seats are there on the flight, and how many business class seats?
Well it’s the A330-300 Airbus that we use, and that has 313 seats. Business class has 36 seats, Economy class has 277 seats. However, business passengers are still limited between Fukuoka and Taipei. Most of our customers are leisure passengers.
What kinds are of travellers do you target here in Kyushu?
Actually, there is a historical relationship between Japan and Taiwan which has always helped business. We see that the elder generation has a strong connection to Taiwan, and want to travel there. But now we want to cultivate the young generation market – particularly young females – in order to continue this kind of relationship. That’s our current big target.
Last year we worked with the Taiwan Visitor’s Association to hold many promotional activities in Fukuoka targeting the female market. For example, I can show you… [showing us a Taiwan travel brochure] …we made this kind of brochure to introduce the parts of Taiwan that women might enjoy. The focus is on shopping, eating, massage and so on. And then we collaborate with the travel agents to make corresponding packages available to customers.
So how’s it going?
It’s going very well! When I go to Fukuoka Airport I see that there are many young women taking our flight to Taiwan, which is a rather big change from ten years ago.
What about the flights from Miyazaki and Kagoshima – is the higher percentage of passengers Japanese or Taiwanese?
For every market, the numbers are different. For example, Japanese outbound passengers from Miyazaki account for 35% of the total passengers. From Kagoshima, Japanese outbound passengers account for 45%. In Fukuoka, we have two departures daily. For our morning departure flight, Japanese outbound passengers account for 90%. For the evening departure flight (6:05pm) – which is aimed at the Taiwanese market – there are only 25% Japanese outbound passengers. It’s completely different!
So if you go on the morning flight from Fukuoka to Taipei, you travel with Japanese people. If you go on the evening flight, you’ll be with Taiwanese people.
The passengers from Taiwan – are they tourists or business people?
They are tourists. Fukuoka doesn’t have as many business people compared to Tokyo or Osaka. So most of our customers are still leisure travelers.
What are some of the advantages that China Airlines can offer passengers?
One thing that crosses my mind straight away is our web campaigns. We do a number of campaigns for customers buying tickets on our website. Right now we have a three month campaign (from April 1st to June 30th) in which passengers purchasing tickets on the website enter a lucky draw to win a prize. We’re going to give away one business class ticket, one free economy class ticket, and five free upgrade coupons – to upgrade from economy to business class. That’s the current campaign content, but we have different online campaigns all year.
What about the actual in-flight service… is there something special about China Airlines?
[laughing] Maybe our delicious food!
In the Kyushu branch, do you mostly promote flights to Taiwan or to destinations beyond?
As I said – our main ‘product’ is the morning departure from Fukuoka. By taking that flight, passengers can start their itinerary in Taiwan as early as noon. Besides, the arrival time of 11:25am at Taipei airport enables passengers to easily connect our flights to major Southeast Asian cities, such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Singapore, etc. From May 7, we will have two flights from Fukuoka to Taipei per day, so it’s more convenient for passengers to take our flight, not only to Taiwan, but to connect to more destinations – Europe, America, Australia…
What are the popular attractions or activities for Japanese visitors to Taiwan now?
Taiwan is a small island, similar to Kyushu, but it’s many different areas provide a good range of things to see. Taipei in the North is a big, modern city with lots of great food and shopping attractions.
Then in the East, the scenery changes to be quite natural. For example, Taiwan has the highest mountain in East Asia – even higher than Mt. Fuji. It’s called Jade Mountain and it’s 3,952m high. So for people who like nature and the outdoors, Taiwan offers the opportunity to climb mountains and see some very different scenery.
However, I think one of the biggest attractions for Japanese people is Taiwan’s railway system. The Taiwan High Speed Rail uses the same system as the Japanese shinkansen. There’s also one very famous train between Taipei and Taroko – and the train is the same as JR Kyushu’s high speed train.
[showing us a book “Ruu (路)” by Shuichi Yoshida] I’d like to introduce this book – the author Shuichi Yoshida won the highest literary prize (Akutagawa Prize, 2002) in Japan. He travelled to Taiwan frequently and likes Taiwan very much. So he decided to write a novel with Taiwan as the setting. It’s based on the Taiwan High Speed Rail, and tells the stories of the many Japanese people who went to Taiwan during the construction period. It’s a great book, I recommend it.
So I think Japanese people feel comfortable and familiar with the Taiwanese railway system. Taiwan’s train lunchboxes (ekiben) are very famous amongst Japanese people too. Japanese bento boxes separate the different parts of the meal – rice, fish, etc.- into separate compartments. Taiwanese train lunchboxes pile everything on top of the rice – like a donburi – which is very unusual and interesting to Japanese people. They’re also much cheaper than Japanese bento, and very delicious.
Is Fukuoka attractive as a destination to Taiwanese?
Yes, because Fukuoka is a compact and very convenient city. Taiwanese people can come to Fukuoka and go shopping easily – it’s not crowded. And they can taste Japanese food, which is tasty and cheaper than in Tokyo. If they want to see other prefectures, that’s easy too because they’re very near, and easy to travel to from Fukuoka. Also Taiwanese people like hot springs, so in Kyushu there are many famous hot springs that appeal to them.
Is it increasing? Are more Taiwanese visitors coming to Kyushu?
Yes, it’s increasing. Especially amongst middle aged Taiwanese people, around their 40s, and families. Right now, most of the visitors from Taiwan come in a tour group. They take a tour bus to travel around Kyushu. But from a Taiwanese point of view, Kyushu is very attractive as a travel destination once you’ve been here and seen it. So I can expect that there will be more repeat visitors coming back. And perhaps on their second or third visits, they’ll drive or take a train to travel independently in Kyushu. I think independent travel will increase.
What can Fukuoka/Kyushu do to attract more visitors?
I would suggest that Fukuoka and other prefectures in Kyushu participate in as many PR activities in foreign countries as possible. It’s the most effective way to attract foreign customers. In Taiwan (and other places) they could hold events like food fairs and so on… because that draws the public’s attention. Prefectural representatives should also visit the travel agent companies in Taiwan and encourage them to visit Kyushu, and make tour packages and products. This is a really effective strategy.
Recently, Kumamoto Prefecture has been very effective and aggressive in promoting domestic and international tourism with their mascot character Kumamon. Over a small space of a year, there’s been a huge change in Kumamoto visibility. I think it’s a very good strategy to attract passengers to visit Kyushu.
What’s an average day for you as GM of China Airlines in Fukuoka?
I usually have some meetings with my colleagues, visit travel agents, and sometimes I may have some parties to attend with Taiwanese people who live in Fukuoka. I have one airport manager on my team, but I still go to the airport every now and then to greet important customers as they arrive.
Do you travel a lot yourself?
Yes, in Kyushu. Coming from working in Tokyo to Kyushu was a big change. I like Kyushu very much. It’s very convenient and easy to travel between prefectures by car or train.
What’s one of your favourite Kyushu destinations to visit personally?
I like Oita very much. Oita has beautiful natural scenery and high quality hot spring hotels.
How do you spend your free time?
Sometimes I go to the bookstore to read some magazines, go to a park or explore the outdoors. In bookstores I pick up Japanese magazines, mainly travel magazines.
What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
To establish great personal relationships in Kyushu makes me very happy. Not only with working partners, but also with customers, colleagues and friends. I’m a foreigner here, so it always feels great when I can build good personal relationships with the people in Japan.
Where did you learn English?
I used to study in England, for one year. I can’t speak fluently anymore, I’ve forgotten a lot! In that time, I also travelled a lot in Britain and other European countries.
Were you always interested in planes and airports?
No – I had no idea about airplanes growing up or as a young adult, because my background is in finance. Actually, most of my classmates work for financial institutions – banks or security institutions. I never thought about entering the airline industry before it happened, but I find the work to be very interesting and dynamic.
And with all the different positions I have worked in, I have learnt a lot. It’s very interesting. Aircraft trading especially… not many people get a chance to gain experience in aircraft trading. At one point I actually had to sell a plane. [laughing] We had an airplane parked in the desert in 2002. After 9/11 the economy dropped down, and we couldn’t sell it for around two years. When the economy recovered, I was responsible to sell that airplane. In the process, I even took a customer to the desert in the USA to see the plane. And finally I sold it to FedEx! It was a passenger plane – but FedEx buy aged aircrafts and convert them to freighters to do business – it’s much cheaper than buying a new freighter. So they bought it, ripped out the seats and strengthened the structure. That was an interesting experience.
Do you have any other goals as General Manager of China Airlines?
At China Airlines, in addition to our regular flights from Fukuoka, Miyazaki and Kagoshima we also do some chartered flights from other destinations like Kumamoto, Oita and Yamaguchi. There’s a high school in Kumamoto that organized a school excursion to Taiwan two years ago. The trip was for all of the school’s first year freshman students (more than 320!) and China Airlines made a special chartered flight for them, using the Boeing 747. You can imagine the excitement… Kumamoto airport is quite small, so it’s usually impossible to see jumbo aircrafts there!
When the students got on board, I changed the cabin music to play their school song! They were surprised! And on the personal TVs on the plane, we made a special greeting movie for the students, and customized some cabin announcements for this group. This first trip was two years ago, and last year they did it for a second time.
After the school excursion was finished, the school’s principal asked for the students to write reports about their memories of Taiwan, and these reports were edited into one book. The book is a great keepsake, and the students still keep up communication with Taiwanese students they met on the trip- exchanging postcards and so on.
This is a good example of what I want to do. I want to help foster relationships between people in Taiwan and Fukuoka. Not only for business, but for international exchange. It’s a good international exchange experience for those young people, that may influence them in the future. This kind of thing is what I want to continue to promote.
Do you have any other special message for our readers?
Many of your readers are foreigners, so I wish them to enjoy their life in Fukuoka. And if they want to go home for a holiday, they are welcome to take China Airlines!
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn173, May 2013)