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Wednesday, 07 October, 2009, 11 : 00 AM [IST]

Middle East Carriers: Fast gaining popularity in Indian market

Middle East is billed as one of the fastest growing regions in the world in the aviation sector. Last few years have witnessed development of airports, emergence of new airlines – Full Service Carriers and Low Cost Carriers clubbed with world class service. Krupa Vora charts down the marketing strategy adopted by various Middle East carriers in the Indian market
According to the Middle East Aviation Outlook 2009 report by Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) in November 2008, the share of global airline premium revenue passing to and through the Middle East grew to a remarkable 12 per cent, up 50 per cent since the start of the global economic slowdown. According to the same report, Middle East carriers are taking delivery of 21 per cent of the world’s wide bodied carriers this year (50 aircraft in total) and 13 per cent of the total wide bodied carriers in 2010. These proportions can increase if the loss-making Asian and European carriers defer or cancel some of their orders.

The Middle East carriers, with their strong financial backing and more resilient traffic, are expected to be less inclined to cancel their orders. With immense potential that the region showcases, the Middle East carriers are already expanding frequencies in the Indian market and at the same time India has also witnessed new carriers like Bahrain Air, Sama Airlines, Flydubai entering the Indian skies. Below are the carriers operating in the Indian market and the strategy adopted by them in order to garner larger market share.

Bahrain Air
Bahrain Air has adopted the strategy of reaching out directly to its customers as far as possible. It is currently engaged in several competitive price related promotions through call centres and dedicated sales offices followed by aggressive web marketing. The carrier has also adopted a B2C strategy to penetrate the Indian market. It has engaged itself with both the travel agents, as well as its customers through parallel channels ensuring that the airline understands the need of the end-consumer. This in the long run has helped design the product and shape it as per the needs of the flyers. The carrier entered the Indian market in May 2008, with three weekly flights to Kochi, Kerala and now operates daily flights from Kochi since October 2008.

Since the inception of its operations in the Indian subcontinent, the primary objective of Bahrain Air has been to engage business traveller and labour traffic out of Kochi. The Southern part of India served as a catchment area and the airline offered a product that was truly ‘value-for money.’ “Gradually, with the launch of two new stations namely Kozhikode (Calicut), Kerala and Mumbai, the marketing strategy has moved to a slightly larger ground whereby it is also positioning Bahrain as a leisure destination offering multiple holiday options and also highlighting the fact that it is a shoppers paradise similar to Dubai,” mentioned Ibrahim Al Hamer, Managing Director, Bahrain Air. The carrier started operations out of Bahrain International Airport in February 2008 to Dubai and over a period of time expanded into markets like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran and India.

Etihad Airways

Having entered the Indian market in 2004, Etihad Airways strategy has largely been to cultivate the travel trade. The marketing focus is driven towards the travel trade since it is a key aspect of the buying pattern of Indian travellers which includes FIT and GIT and also the corporate travellers. The strategy adopted is to strengthen associations with its trade partners and thereby develop the market. There are various programmes planned with the trade throughout the year including sales blitz, special fares and FAM trips. This has been the carrier’s focus. Apart from promoting connectivity to Abu Dhabi, the carrier also promotes onward connections to US and Europe from Abu Dhabi. Traffic is driven on these routes by introducing various incentives and special fares.

“This has been our focus given the current scenario, as well as since it is largely the travel agent who gives us direct access to the final consumer. Public Relations is another important aspect of reaching out to our customers and the travel trade industry. Globally, international sports sponsorship plays a central role in Etihad Airways marketing strategy as we seek to develop our profile in markets across the world,” said Neerja Bhatia, Country Manager- India and Sri Lanka, Etihad Airways. Etihad Airways also promotes its products through the advertising medium in key consumer publications to communicate special fares and announcements.

Air Arabia
Covering 13 destinations in India, Air Arabia’s marketing strategy focuses on offering best rates in the region with a service that speaks about itself. The company’s value proposition is to make travel more frequent - ‘Pay less. Fly more.’ Air Arabia offers best fares in the market with high levels of safety and service. Price is a main driver as far as Air Arabia’s marketing plans are concerned in India. The company depends on point to point sales and the competitive fares combined with flexible flights schedule that suits leisure, family and business travellers. The carrier has recognised and pushed the power of Internet bookings in the region. The carrier focuses on online bookings to reduce distribution costs and ultimately ticket fares, passing the benefits to the passengers.

“Our marketing strategy stands testament to our long term commitment to the Indian market. Air Arabia is a customer-driven airline and we provide real ‘value for money’ services. This strategy is responsible for the success the company has achieved in such a short span of time. We believe that our customer-driven initiatives combined with offering the best prices in the market will continue to be the company’s focus,” said A K Nizar, Head of Commercial, Air Arabia. The carrier started operations to India with the launch of services to Mumbai in March 2005 and over a period of time expanded to 13 destinations and 99 flights per week between Sharjah and India. The destinations served by Air Arabia are: Mumbai, Nagpur, Kochi, Jaipur, Chennai, Trivandrum, Ahmedabad, Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Kozhikode, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Goa.

Qatar Airways
With eight operational stations in India, Qatar Airways marketing strategy has been based on positioning itself as a premium carrier and highlighting the five-star service it offers to travellers. The strategy adopted by Qatar Airways comprises of working closely with the travel trade and corporate companies through events, workshops and also showcasing the product at trade fairs like ATM, ITB, etc. It also conducts direct consumer promotions through newspapers and television and aggressive Internet promotions. “The product and brand promoted is aspirational by nature and hence the approach adopted towards marketing the product is strategic and tactical. The idea is to promote the product at the right place, through the right channel and at the right time,” stated Naveen Chawla, Country Manager, Qatar Airways.

Over the years, Emirates strategy has been focused upon working closely with the travel trade as about 90 per cent bookings come through the travel trade fraternity. The travel agent is a consultant to the passenger and plays an important role in facilitating the documentation required for international travel as well as, clarifying various details about the airline, destination, payments etc. Travel agents, Corporates, Advertising, Direct Mailing and Public Relations support Emirates operations and are the different channels through which the carrier is positioned in the Indian market. “Emirates has always been supportive of the travel trade in India and has keenly supported their initiatives. Emirates products are packaged at a premium as they come with an assurance of quality that has been built over the ages and a reliable service backup. All facilities offered to the trade are designed keeping in mind the repeat business it ensures for a channel partner, as well as the airline,” stated Orhan Abbas, Vice President, India and Nepal, Emirates.

Emirates introduces special promotional offers amongst the travel trade for new routes launched, festival offers, increase in frequencies etc. Besides working closely with travel trade, Emirates has on offer a number of ancillary services on which the travel trade can earn compensation such as Marhaba (meet and greet) services, preferential access to Emirates’ seat inventory with ‘FareLogix’, Stopover packages at Dubai for short-transit passengers with ‘Dubai Stopovers (DSO)’, loyalty points and a reward system for agencies wanting to cluster their key clients (SME gateway) and Visa facilitation through the Dubai Visa Processing Centre – DVPC (Emirates assists in the facilitation of Visas but does not directly approve them).
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