Regional airlines seek to expand business
London - Despite political and economic turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, regional airlines are seeking new business and offering additional destinations and services via their main hubs.
There are also attention-grabbing events, such the longest distance non-stop commercial flight flown by an Emirates Airbus A380 — the world’s largest passenger plane — for 14,200km between Dubai and Auckland in 16 hours, 24 minutes on March 2nd.
More traditionally, companies are capitalising on popular destinations such as Oman and the United Arab Emirates and religious tourism, including the haj and umrah pilgrimages. There are more flights to the ancient ruins at Luxor and the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt, which had been suspended after the October 31st bombing of a Russian airliner.
Oman Air said it planned to increase its flights from Britain and looked to build capacity to Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“The political turmoil in the region has benefited tourism in Oman. People who want to see a country similar to Syria might come to Oman as it has a similar culture with a rich history,” Oman Air Account Manager Paul Rowley said.
A new airport, predicted to handle 12 million passengers the first year, is to open in 2017 in Muscat and many hotels are being built in Oman.
“You can visit the big canyons and climb mountains,” Rowley said, outlining Oman’s tourist attractions. “You can see a traditional Omani village. You can visit the Wahiba sands and Nizwa fort.
“There are no high-rise buildings, so Oman is very traditional. Salala has a different climate compared to the rest of the Middle East. It is very tropical and green. People from the Gulf go there to escape the heat.”
EgyptAir will be adding destinations from Dublin, Manchester and from Australia/Oceania by 2017. From Manchester, EgyptAir plans two flights a day to Luxor.
“We used to fly from Manchester but for commercial issues it was stopped. Now we are planning to restart plans again,” said EgyptAir Sales and Marketing Officer Kaleem Nawaz.
The airline is also planning more flights to Saudi Arabia during the haj.
From the revolution in 2011 until 2013, there was a 62-65% decrease in the number of foreign tourists visiting Egypt. After 2013, however, figures indicate the market is turning.
Etihad Airways’ most travelled routes in winter include those to Australia with Kuwait, Bahrain, Jeddah and Riyadh its most popular Middle Eastern destinations. They have partnerships with agencies that facilitate visas for haj and umrah.
“Our business has increased significantly with our Jet Airways partnership. People fly with us to Abu Dhabi and then fly with Jet Airways to other countries,” Etihad General Manager James Harrison said. “We are promoting Abu Dhabi for stopovers so when you travel with a premium ticket or business or first class for a stopover, you can have a free night in a five-star hotel in Abu Dhabi.”
The oil price drop has limited flights by people working in petroleum-based industries. But, he said, “as businesses change and markets move up and down, we try to subsidise what we lost in the oil crisis by planning more flights to other destinations such as Australia.”