Growing African market is very important to Emirates

Saturday October 26 2013

Emirates, one of the fastest growing carriers in the world, is renewing its push into the growing market on the continent.

Wallace Kantai spoke to Orhan Abbas, the Emirates' senior vice president for Latin America, Central and Southern Africa, on its plans for the continent.


There has been a slowdown in economic activity globally, so one would expect that people are flying less. Does that present a problem for you as an airline?

No, it does not present a problem, we are expanding worldwide. We’ve opened a number of stations this year, for example Conakry at the end of October.

Next year, we shall have Kiev and Boston. On the first of October, we extended our Milan-JFK flight, and we’re seeing healthy load factors. We have also expanded our fleet.


We do business to make money. We give our passengers the best experience possible — value for money. We put a lot of effort into our product, and our services. We concentrate on our staff, as well as our inflight experience. We make the experience of a passenger more than just about flying — it is more a lifestyle brand.

Looking at how airlines have been operating globally, Emirates seems to be moving in a different direction. In places like Europe and America, The trend has been to make flights as simple and as basic as possible: Charge the lowest fare, give the most basic service and charge for everything else above that. You seem to be moving towards the luxury, lifestyle end of the market.

Most of our aircraft have three classes — first, business and economy. We cater to all classes in all market segments. Every airline has its own strategy, ours has been a successful one worldwide. We’re seeing success in how we are growing organically. We give value for money. At the end of the day, the customer who flies Emirates has an experience, and their loyalty is always to Emirates.

Yet your economy class is still better than that of other airlines...

At the end of the day, even our economy class provides services that our passengers appreciate. We don’t target a niche market — we target all markets, whether the corporate traveller, the leisure traveller, the pilgrimage traveller, or the traveller visiting family and relatives.

READ: Emirates prefers independence to best serve customers’ interests

Africa as a continent needs connections within itself. But in your case, one has to take a flight from, say, Nairobi to Dubai and then onwards to other destinations, as opposed to directly.

I think every international carrier operating into Africa almost by necessity has to operate on the hub-and-spoke model. These are bilateral agreements, involving government approvals.

Every international carrier goes back to their hub and on to the world. But we have double daily flights into Nairobi, and our flights connect fantastically to almost all the six continents. So we have made it very easy for the Kenyan passenger to travel on Emirates and beyond to the world.

What’s the nature of the African market? The assumption before was that of a market where people only fly occasionally.

The truth is that you now have it all. You have the corporate or business traveller, the trader traffic that goes to China and back; oil and mining companies; leisure travel; the Dubai traffic; pilgrimage traffic such as for the Umrah and the Hajj; it is a combination of all these. The African market is very important to us. It has grown, and I can see it growing even further.

How has it changed over the years?

It has evolved, like we have evolved. We now have direct flights Dar-es-Salaam and Entebbe. Last year we delinked Entebbe from Ethiopia. That shows you the change and increase in demand from these African markets. In South Africa, we operate three times a day to Johannesburg, to Durban and to Cape Town. The future and the outcome of the African market is very good.

Does competition from your fellow Middle Eastern airlines such as Etihad; from Africa with Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways create a challenge for you?

We look at competition as being very healthy —that’s how you benchmark yourself. And we have thrived, and grown, facing immense competition from our own hub, and around the world. We encourage competition — that’s how you grow and know how you’re doing.

How do you deal with the fact that the high-quality African airlines have their hubs in Africa and are able to hop to any part of the continent, whereas you have to deal with five-hour flights — or even longer ones?

I cannot speak for any other airline – they have their own strategies. We concentrate on our own market segments. Sometimes we share those markets, but everyone gets a fair share of the pie. In Nairobi, we operate a 70-80 per cent load factor. We consider competition as an advantage.

Airlines like Turkish say that they’ll develop Istanbul as a global hub. All say that they can reach the rest of the world with similar lead times as you. They say Emirates is successful at it, so we’ll do the same.

If other airlines can follow in our footsteps, why not? They’re most welcome. I think we have our own strategy. We have set our plans and our goals for future growth. We grow organically, as you know, we’re not a part of any alliance. We’re Emirates, and we believe in doing things the Emirates way.

What’s the future of the African market?

I see a lot of potential in the African market. Strong growth, good load factors. I started my commercial career in Tanzania in 2001, and coming back after 10 years, I am glad to see how East Africa has progressed.

READ: Will flying EA skies get easier in the coming year?

This is phenomenal growth — I’m really happy to see the way it is growing and the different business mix on our flights, with corporate and leisure traffic increasing. I see a good, strong future for Africa.

Wallace Kantai is the business editor at NTV Kenya