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Flight path to the Gulf.

IN THE WAKE OF increased trade relations with South Africa, Middle East countries are rushing to establish direct air links with the country. The aim is not only to complement trade but also to get a slice of the business traveller market on the lucrative Europe to Johannesburg route, which is dominated by airlines such as Lufthansa and British Airways.

Gulf Air, EgyptAir, THY of Turkey and Israel's El Al already operate regular twice-weekly flights to Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. The Dubai-based Emirates Airlines, which recently won the Silver Globe Award for "Best Airline to the Middle East", is starting a similar service to South Africa in April. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), according to its chairman, Malik Tiwana, is starting a service to Johannesburg from March.

All these services operate on a reciprocal basis with state-owned South African Airways (SAA). But other privately-owned South African airlines such as Flitestar are also looking at the Gulf markets. According to Flitestar's international business manager, Monika Griesenberger, the airline has applied to the Saudi Civil Aviation Presidency for a licence to start a weekly service to Jeddah "in the first half of 1993." Flitestar began a weekly flight to Bahrain from Johannesburg last October and together with the Gray Mackenzie Travel Group, Oases Tours and Gulf Ventures offers specialised holidays to Oman, the UAE and Bahrain.

Flitestar is targetting the pilgrimage markets to Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia. South Africa has a Muslim population of over two million, mainly of Indian and Malay origin. In the last two years, South African Muslim pilgrims have flown to Jeddah on specially chartered flights operated by Saudia and SAA. However, with the opening up of trade links between the Gulf and South Africa, airlines are now also targetting the business travel market. Flitestar, a subsidiary of Luxavia, the Luxembourg national carrier, has also applied for licences to fly to Abu Dhabi and Karachi.

There is no doubt that the pace for the Gulf-Africa route is being set by the Bahrain-based Gulf Air, which started a twice-weekly service to Johannesburg via Abu Dhabi in December 1992. Gulf Air has already applied to extend the service to Durban. "We are very keen on extending our services in South Africa, where we see good potential. We are discussing with South Africa Airways the possibility of an agreement whereby Gulf Air would offer an onward service to Durban," says Khalid Althani, manager of Gulf Air UK and Northern Europe.

Gulf Air aims to make the service competitive and is focussing on businessmen, tourists and southern African Muslims and the "ethnic" market. Gulf Air, according to Althani, also aims to market its Johannesburg service in Europe because "flying time to the Gulf and then to Johannesburg is less than the flight time from Heathrow to Jan Smuts. We will compete on price with both British Airways and SAA and any other European airline."

The airline is soon to launch a marketing drive aimed at the South African Muslim pilgrimage market. In 1993, the hajj falls during spring. Muslims also go to Saudi Arabia to perform the mini-hajj (Umrah), which can be done any time of the year save during the proper hajj.

The pilgrimage season, which attracts up to five million people to Makkah from all over the world, presents wonderful business opportunities for South African companies, especially livestock exporters, tent manufacturers and medical equipment suppliers.

Egypt and Turkey are already becoming popular tourism destinations for South Africans of all races. In the Gulf, Bahrain and the UAE, are also promoting their tourism industries.

Gulf Air says it is not unduly worried by plans by the rival Emirates Airlines, the fastest growing airline in the region, to launch a similar service from Dubai to Johannesburg in April 1993. Emirates' chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Sayed al Maktoum, recently visited Johannesburg to sign the agreement with SAA.
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Title Annotation:Business and Finance; Gulf airliners compete for South African market
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:No longer taboo.
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