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Qatar Airways: Phuket and Hanoi today, Surabaya tomorrow?

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Nov 04, 2010

PHUKET (eTN) - Celebrating the launch of two new flights to Phuket and Hanoi, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker expressed his confidence about the success of both new destinations, especially the huge increase in capacities out of Thailand. Qatar is the first Middle East carrier to serve the resort island of Phuket. “This is a favorite destination not only among travelers from the Middle East but also from Europe or North America. This direct flight is a wonderful opportunity for Phuket tourism, and we received strong support from all authorities in Thailand to start this flight,” he explained.

Phuket is currently served on a daily basis from Kuala Lumpur, while Hanoi is flown four times a week via Bangkok. “We would love to fly nonstop to those markets, but we are facing a shortage of aircraft,” told Mr. Al Baker. According to Qatar Airways management in Bangkok, passenger flow on the new route of Phuket-Kuala/Lumpur-Doha would be fairly balanced over the year, while Phuket is likely to show a higher share of passengers during the winter season.

Thailand remains a big success on Qatar Airways with the airline celebrating its 10th anniversary flying to the kingdom. “Thailand is now served by 28 flights per week as we also launched a third daily flight between Doha and Bangkok. It shows that relations between Qatar and Thailand have grown from strength to strength,” added Mr. Al Baker. According to the Embassy of Thailand in Qatar, some 13,000 Thai stay in the country while trade volume between both countries reached last year some US$2.8 billion. According to Qatar Airways' CEO, some 300,000 Thais will use Qatar flights to and from Doha this year. “Many transfer to Europe as they feel very comfortable with our service as we also serve Thai food and have Thai flight attendants,” told Joe Rajadurai, country manager of Qatar Airways for Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

However, Thailand is not the only success story for Qatar Airways, which is evaluating more cities to fly in the region. “Over a decade ago, we used to fly only to four cities in the Far East. We now fly to 18 destinations,” described Mr. Al Baker. This year only, Qatar added three more cities - Tokyo, Hanoi, and Phuket. And it looks further to increase its presence in the region, especially to secondary cities. “There is a huge demand from these ‘secondary’ cities, and we feel that they bear great opportunities,” added Mr. Al Baker.

Qatar Airways is the most pioneering airline in the Middle East as it already serves many secondary Asian markets. The airline is the only Gulf carrier to have a presence in Bali, Cebu, Hanoi, or Phuket. It used to fly a few years ago to Rangoon before pulling out due to the political situation in Myanmar. Qatar Airways hopes to expand its network into Indonesia.

“Indonesia is our oldest market, as we started flying to Jakarta 12 years ago. We now serve also Bali, but we would now like to expand to Surabaya. We will hold [a] meeting with the Civil Aviation in Indonesia next month. And we hope that they will understand the well-being of an open-sky policy as it will not only [be] benefiting to us but also to Indonesian air carriers. They should look at what happened in India. It was a very restrictive country with only one international airline. After embracing an open-skies policy, they have now at least four to five international carriers of Indian nationality in competition,” analyzed Mr. Al Baker.

In the longer term, Cambodia is also another potential market that Qatar Airways is looking at. “We will definitely continue to expand in Asia. This continent is turning into a new powerhouse for the world as Europe and USA will lose their status of economic engine in a foreseeable future,” told Qatar Airways CEO.

Qatar Airways: Phuket and Hanoi today, Surabaya tomorrow?
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker in Phuket

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