How would you describe the growth story of Qatar Airways in India?
|Akbar Al Baker|
As an industry leader, Qatar Airways strives to be the best in all that we do and are committed to provide a luxurious and comfortable travel experience to our passengers. The airline has seen rapid growth in just 15 years of operation, currently operating a modern fleet of 111 aircraft to 119 key business and leisure destinations across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, North America and South America. With an expanding network covering six continents, India is one of our key networks with 95 flights per week from 12 cities which connect to various destinations in Europe, Middle East, North and South America via Doha. The number of Indians flying overseas for business and leisure purposes has been growing over the decades and the pace has only accelerated further.
How important is the India market in your overall strategic plans for the future?
The airline plans to serve over 170 destinations worldwide with a fleet of more than 170 aircraft by 2015. Qatar Airways is one of the fastest growing carriers in the world with phenomenal route expansion averaging 30 per cent growth year to year. The Indian aviation market is seen as an area of huge opportunity and potential and we plan to leverage the growth story in India. Our plan is to increase investments and engagement in this region in the coming years. We will continue to invest in key initiatives to strengthen our footprint across the country. Owing to our aggressive growth strategy and underlining the significance of the Indian market for Qatar Airways, we plan to seek more landing rights in India, incorporate new destinations to our list, enhance capacity on the current routes served and recruit more people including cabin crew here.
Have you launched any new routes that would be of interest to Indians?
We recently announced the launch two new gateways which include Gassim in Saudi Arabia effective from January 7, 2013 and Najaf in Iraq effective January 23, 2013. Chicago will be a key market for India to where we are launching flights from April 10, 2013. This is in addition to other North American gateways – New York, Montreal, Washington and Houston. All flights from our 12 points in India connect to these destinations via our hub in Doha. In keeping with our aggressive growth plans, we will continue to introduce newer routes in the coming months.
What is your focus on establishing Doha as a hub for Indian travellers?
Doha is rapidly becoming an important destination on the global stage and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The State of Qatar is positioning itself as a global hub for air travel and that future is already materialising with tourist and transit arrivals growing each day. Doha being the operational hub of Qatar Airways, over 18 million passengers fly annually to and from Doha, with the majority being transit passengers. We are leading the race in developing the region’s future aviation hub, the New Doha International Airport (NDIA). The facilities of the new airport will provide an unparalleled travel experience. Just a few features of NDIA include: a 600,000 square metre three-storey terminal with 22 remote gates and 41 contact gates, six of which will cater specifically for the double-decker Airbus A380 together with retail facilities of more than 40,000 square metres featuring shopping, restaurants and passenger lounges. When it first opens next year, the terminal will have an initial capacity of 28 million passengers a year, which will then surge to approximately 50 million by the time the airport is fully operational with an expanded terminal beyond 2015. The complex will include an airport hotel and a 100-room transit hotel within the terminal for the convenience of transfer passengers. This reiterates Qatar Airways’ commitment to create superior travel experience for our passengers.
What is the greatest differentiating factor for Qatar Airways vis-a-vis other airlines that operate with the Middle East region as a hub?
The expectation and behaviour of passengers across the globe has changed drastically over the years. As a truly global airline, Qatar Airways understands that travel is no longer just about connectivity but about providing a holistic travel experience. In line with the company’s philosophy to be innovative, we operate the world’s first dedicated commercial passenger premium terminal exclusively for its First and Business Class passengers at Doha International Airport. The facility is designed to provide our customers the best levels of comfort and hospitality prior to catching the flight.
In an endeavour to further enhance our brand promise of offering five-star service on board, we officially introduced an incredible line-up of globally renowned chefs with award-winning Chef Ramzi Choueiri from Lebanon, Mumbai-born Chef Vineet Bhatia, Chef Tom Aikens from the UK and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa from Japan inspiring an entirely new in-flight dining experience. Qatar Airways’ collaboration with such global icons and gastronomic pioneers further proves our commitment to redefining the passenger experience by offering a truly five-star service. Having been selected to create a unique and diverse menu for all international flights, the renowned chefs spent several months adapting and testing their specialities for Qatar Airways’ passengers. Their menus have begun to be rolled out on flights to and from Doha International Airport. Through initiatives such as this, the airline continues to challenge and lead the aviation industry, enhancing different service elements of air travel today and pushing the boundaries of genuine luxury and comfort.
We have achieved our objective to be the best in the world through the practice of outstanding in-flight service, superior onboard products and operational excellence. The accolades for Airline of the Year 2011 and 2012 in the annual Skytrax World Airline Awards attest Qatar Airways’ highest standards it sets for itself.
What are your long-term future plans for this market?
With its high long-term growth potential, India is and continues to be a very important market for the airline. Reiterating our long-term commitment to India, we will continue investing heavily in marketing and other developmental initiatives. India is a core market in terms of our global growth strategy. As part of expansion plans, there will be plans for new routes connecting India and the world.
Is there any other important factor you would like to talk about?
Another significant milestone I would like to mention is the opening of Qatar Airways’ Premium Lounge at London Heathrow, one of the airline’s busiest routes, this year. The Premium Lounge is the airline’s first dedicated facility for First and Business Class passengers outside its Doha hub. Designed to resemble a boutique hotel or private member´s club rather than a conventional airport lounge, the new Premium Lounge at Heathrow has been created to provide the ultimate in luxury and five-star service. The opening of this new lounge reflects the importance of extending Qatar Airways’ award-winning service beyond our signature Premium Terminal in Doha.