Gulf Air struggling to make impact in Ugandan market


UGANDA (eTN) – The imminent launch of daily flights by Qatar Airways and the flurry of media and agency-focused activities have prompted “lesser cousin” Gulf Air to at least try and put on a brave face and finally do some drum beating themselves.

Early bird news about Gulf Air’s intention to fly a few times a week from Bahrain to both Entebbe and Juba were published here within hours of the formal announcement but have since been overshadowed by news of ongoing unrest in Bahrain, where the reaction to pro-democracy protests by the country’s despotic rulers have drawn global condemnation. The cancellation of the Formula 1 season opening race has only added to the negative publicity.

In Uganda, it has also not gone unnoticed that Gulf Air had several years ago withdrawn from the Entebbe route in a rather unceremonious way, leaving negative feelings to fester on, and flying only 4 times a week, instead like senior rivals Emirates and Qatar,which are operating daily, has also disappointed travel agents. Said one of them specialized in “deals” to this correspondent: “Regular business travelers will find it a bit difficult to chose Gulf, because they only come here 4 times a week. They normally want to fly with airlines offering daily connections to be flexible.

“To make it worse, Bahrain has bad press everywhere, because of their internal politics, and our people here have learned lessons when Egypt went into revolution and Egypt Air suddenly had to stop flying because of turmoil at their airport in Cairo. Gulf will, therefore, have a bit of a problem selling, except if they come up with extra-special low fares for people connecting to somewhere.

“I see few Ugandans going to Bahrain under the circumstances there, but most will use Gulf to connect somewhere, maybe to Dubai or to Europe or somewhere. So if the fares are very low, we can sell them on the aspect of pricing only.”

Such sentiments were also voiced by other agents, some of whom were also pointing out that Qatar’s launch in early November, as opposed to Gulf’s launch in early December, would impact as the market could only absorb added capacity gradually.

Nevertheless, it was positive to see that Gulf Air in Kampala has finally woken up to the reality of having to do something or else risk going almost unnoticed before their inaugural flight on December 5.