Gulf Air has been going through a restructure recently and continues to operate despite heavy competition in the Middle Eastern airline market. Travel Daily UK caught up with the airline’s country manager UK Rashid AlGaoud to hear where its British customers are travelling to and what is new for the London route.
Q) How is Gulf Air’s restructure progressing?
The results speak for themselves. Gulf Air has made significant progress in implementing its restructuring. Year-on-year, up to and including October 2013, the airline has reduced its overall losses by more than 50%, reduced its costs by nearly 30% and performed nearly 20% ahead of its financial target; keeping it firmly on-target to achieve its annual financial restructuring goal.
More importantly however, Gulf Air now offers its customers more. Passengers now have an airline that is one of the most punctual in the word, more flight options to travel to their chosen destinations at a time convenient to them and better products and services both in the air and on the ground.
In 2013 Gulf Air cemented its position as a global leader in on-time-punctuality (OTP). Statistics published by FlightStats Data, an independent provider of flight information services, confirmed the airline’s average OTP for its flight arrivals is above 90 per cent.
Gulf Air continues to operate one of the largest Middle East networks, with a double daily service to 11 regional capitals. Additionally, the airline has strengthened the frequency of its flights to seven of its key destinations including three in Pakistan, and more recently, has announced the addition of three additional routes; Thiruvananthapuram in India, Mashhad in Iran and Al Maktoum Airport in new Dubai.
The airline’s fleet is one of the youngest in the region and is comprised of predominantly new aircraft with high specification on-board products. Furthermore over the last eleven months investments in product and services have continued. The airline has boosted its in-flight-entertainment system and started to plan the retrofit of four A330 aircraft used primarily on London and Bangkok to introduce fully flatbed seats in Falcon Gold class, revamp Economy class and upgrade the in-flight entertainment system.
Q) How is the UK market currently performing at Gulf Air?
The UK market is a key and growing market for Gulf Air.
We currently operate two daily flights, one in the morning and one in the evening from London Heathrow Terminal 4 to Bahrain.
Gulf Air’s load factor is consistently over 70%, an improvement over last year, following the fine-tuning of the network to offer passengers improved connection timings through the airline’s Bahrain hub to destinations across the Middle East and Gulf Region, Indian Sub-Continent, Asia and the Far East.
Q) There is a lot of competition within the Middle East-based carriers. How does Gulf Air differentiate itself from those?
Competition in the Middle East is rife as the region’s major carriers battle it out to become the dominant east-west global connector by concentrating on moving high-volumes of transit-traffic through their hubs to onward points on their networks using high-density aircraft.
The economics of this business model dictate a lower frequency of flights, meaning that the airline chooses when the passenger travels.
Gulf Air’s business strategy is very different, with a focus on point-to-point traffic, especially in the region, we operate lower-density aircraft allowing us to focus on offering passengers access to high-frequency flights putting control of when to travel very much back into the hands of our passengers. Today, Gulf Air operates one of the largest regional networks, with a double daily service to 11 regional capitals. This strategy has allowed Gulf Air to successfully differentiate itself from its competitors and carved a niche for itself in highly competitive environment.
Gulf Air also prides itself on its unique products and services. Whereas our regional competitors are geared towards providing high-volume service, the nature of Gulf Air’s business model allows for a more personal touch. Gulf Air is renowned through the industry for its traditional Arabian service and award-winning Sky Nanny and Sky Chefs.
Q) What are the main external challenges that Gulf Air faces?
Gulf Air operates in an environment characterised by volatility and severe competition.
By continuing to evolve and adapt to its operating environment and carve a niche for itself in this highly-competitive environment Gulf Air will be more immune to these challenges.
Q) Which destinations do UK travellers often connect to from Bahrain?
The British are renowned for being avid travellers; passengers originating from the country travel through our efficient Bahrain hub to destinations across the Middle East and Gulf Region, Indian Sub-Continent, Asia and the far east.
The most popular destinations are Dubai, Oman and Bangkok as well as the traditional pilgrimage destinations of Median and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Q) Have you seen any trends in the places that British travellers are going to, or generally across the group?
British travellers are increasingly visiting Dubai, which is one of the main reasons we recently commenced flying to Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai from the 8 December 2013.
Gulf Air’s daily evening flight to DWC will provide additional travel options, maximising passenger convenience.
The airport’s close proximity to the holiday, residential and business developments of Arabian Ranches, Dubai Marina, Dubai Media City and Palm Jumeirah make it an attractive, alternative, time-saving travel proposition for passengers or travelling to these areas.
Q) What else is new at Gulf Air?
Gulf Air will continue to invest in its products in the air and on the ground; starting with retrofit of four A330 aircraft used primarily on London and Bangkok to introduce fully flatbed seats in Falcon Gold class, revamp Economy class and upgrade the in-flight entertainment system.
In the past two months the airline has opened three new destinations; Thiruvananthapuram in India, Mashhad in Iran and Al Maktoum Airport in new Dubai. Gulf Air will continue to develop its network with an additional two new destinations slatted to be announced shortly.
Gulf Air will be continue to invest in technology to improve its passengers’ travel experience, building on its recent introduction of mobile check-in facilities. Gulf Air will also enhance its existing use of online communication channels to communicate to its customers more effectively, by investing in cutting edge technology.