Coffee, tea or bikini? VietJet stands by racy calendar amid criticisms

Friday, Dec 29, 2017
Photo: VietJet

HANOI/SINGAPORE - Vietnam's VietJet Aviation said on Thursday (Dec 28) it was standing by a controversial "bikini" calendar, a marketing ploy featuring scantily clad female models that has prompted criticism in conservative South-east Asia and beyond.

The annual calendar, which has gone viral online, is part of a broader marketing push by VietJet that has propelled the start-up airline's rapid growth, as it has taken market share from Vietnam Airlines.

The publication of the 2018 calendar - which critics say overly sexualises the image of flight attendants and other airline staff - comes as there is a growing debate in the global airlines industry about sexual harassment and in-flight assault of both passengers and employees.

VietJet, founded by Ms Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao - Vietnam's first female billionaire and one of a handful of women running a major airline globally - said the calendar emphasised the free choice of people to wear whatever they wanted.


VietJet Air releases 2018 calendar featuring bikini-clad models (yes, again)

"We are not upset when people associate us with the bikini image. If that makes people delighted and happy, then we'll be happy," Mr Luu Duc Khanh, VietJet's managing director, said in e-mailed comments to Reuters.

When asked about the views of Ms Thao, Mr Khanh said the CEO thought people "have the right to wear whatever they like, bikini or traditional ao dai", referring to the traditional Vietnamese long dress.

Ms Thao was unavailable for an interview.

Source : VietJet Air

When you think of VietJet Air, bikini-clad models and stewardesses come to mind.

This festive season, the airlines has released, yet again, their 2018 calendar featuring models dressed in lingerie with the company colours - red and yellow. 

This year's theme "air cabin catwalk" sees models posed as different cabin crew and staff.

Among them include Celine Franch, a 20-year-old American model who has over 950,000 followers on Instagram.

The calendar also features Thai runner-up of Miss Tiffany's Universe 2017 Kwanlada Rungrojampa (Rock Kwanlada).

Vietnamese runner-up of the Asia’s Next Top Model 2017, Ming Tu Nguyen, was also involved in the photo shoot.

A VietJet Air spokesperson told Taiwan News that they worked hard to recruit top models from different countries.

VietJet Air is known for using scantily-clad girls in its promotional campaigns.

In 2014, the airlines was slammed for featuring bikini girls in its cabin in an apparent PR promotional stunt.

Although cabin crew on VietJet Air are fully-clothed, the airline does occasionally offer special flights with the official bikini uniforms. 

According to VietJet Air CEO Thi Phuong Thao, the calendars and bikini crew are "empowering images in Vietnam's conservative culture". 

She told Bloomberg: “You have the right to wear anything you like, either the bikini or the traditional ao dai (traditional Vietnamese longtunic worn over loose pants)."

"We don’t mind people associating the airline with the bikini image. If that makes people happy, then we are happy."

VietJet Air also released a behind-the-scenes video of the calendar photoshoot.

Models danced in flower bikinis onboard the airline's new Dalat (Vietnam) - Bangkok (Thailand) route in Dec 2017

Bikini clad models in a Vietjet hotair balloon at Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 2017


The calendar has caused an online storm in Vietnam, with some people criticising and others defending the campaign. The 2018 calendar and a YouTube video of the photo shoot have been viewed more than 910,000 times since first appearing at the end of last month.

"I think (the calendar) is beautiful, not unpleasant at all," one user posted on Facebook under the avatar Mai Co. Another person, named as Van Nhi, said the airline was "creating scandal to gain attention". "It's getting more unpleasant."

Critics say VietJet's risque marketing, including the calendar and bikini fashion shows on board planes, presented an archaic and sexist image of cabin crew, even as the risk of harassment and assault go widely underreported.

VietJet is "taking us back 50 years by hyper-sexualising a female dominated work group in order to make a few bucks off a couple of cheesy calendars", said Ms Heather Poole, a veteran US flight attendant and author of a book about working the not-always-friendly skies.

"Women have to work so hard to be taken seriously, and in this case it's a woman in charge taking us back to the days of 'Coffee, Tea or Me?'," she added, alluding to a 1960s book about two fictitious female flight attendants that emphasised their sexual appetite.

Mr Khanh said Vietjet flight attendants have been trained to handle sexual harassment situations.

VietJet is not the first firm to use racy calendars to raise its profile. Italian tyre maker Pirelli - known for its calendars of glamorous female models - has overhauled the annual offering in recent years with less of a focus on nudity.

Irish budget carrier Ryanair Holdings in 2014 scrapped an annual charity calendar featuring female cabin crew posing in bikinis in favour of more family-friendly images.

Mr Khanh, who said the proceeds from sales of the VietJet calendar go to charity, acknowledged that there could be big changes in the content for the next version.

"Male models is a good idea for us to introduce in our calendars next year," he said.