TTN’s publishing director, Kim Thomson, was on board the inaugural flight, while Oman Air’s official delegation to Athens included its senior vice-president, International Sales, Laurent Recoura, and regional vice-president, Oman, Jamal Al Azki. Honorary Consul of Greece in the Sultanate of Oman Dr Elias Nikolakopoulos also accompanied the delegation to Athens.
Abdulaziz Al Raisi, Oman Air’s chief executive officer, said: “I am pleased to announce the addition of the Greek capital to our network. Since we announced this route last year, we have seen strong interest to this destination, both from the travel trade community and leisure travellers. We expect this daily service connecting Muscat with Athens to further stimulate economic, trade and business relations between our two countries. Apart from strengthening and opening up new business opportunities between Greece and Oman, our flights will also act as a catalyst in driving the expansion of Greek tourists to our beautiful country, Oman.”
“If we want to compete with the big guys, we have to be close to the trade, close to our customers. ”
– Laurent Recoura
Paul Starrs, chief commercial officer at Oman Air said: “Our new service will provide more choice and greater convenience for travellers. We are confident the addition of Athens onto our expanding global network will be appreciated by the business communities, especially Small and Medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as holiday seekers looking for new travel experiences.”
ATHENS PRESS CONFERENCE
At a press conference, which took place in Athens, Athens International Airport’s director, communications & marketing, Ioanna Papadopoulou, said, “Athens Airport had an all-time record performance in 2018 with 5.7 million foreign international arrivals, a growth of + 19.5 per cent. January to April this year has had an 8.5 per cent increase in passenger numbers with domestic at +6.3 per cent and international at +9.6 per cent (4.37 million passengers, representing a 69 per cent traffic share).”
Papadopoulou also mentioned that the China market has shown +70 per cent growth - this is significant as Oman Air has a strong network in China.
“The Gulf region has been a spectacular success story ever since it started in Athens airport. 2018 had 900,000 passengers, an aggregate growth of the last five years has been 80 per cent,” says Papadopoulou.
“We started negotiations in 2012, and one of the drivers of establishing this route was the connecting traffic via Muscat on Oman Air’s network, a market of over 270,000 passengers in 2018, mostly from the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia and Kenya, with India representing close to 80,000.”
Laurent Recoura, senior vice-president, international sales, Oman Air, said: “Staring a new destination for an airline is always unique and exciting, and it requires a lot effort and teamwork.
“We are a 25-year-old-company flying 55 aircraft to 54 destinations. With our codeshare partners, we are service 80 destinations. Over the last two years, we have been very aggressive and have increased capacity over 24 per cent.
“Athens is our 10th destination in Europe. The average age of our fleet is below six years. We operate a mixed fleet of Boeing, Airbus and Embraer.
“We are a boutique airline with award-winning services. Being in the airline business is a tough business because at the end of the day, we all fly basically the same aircraft, we have similar seats – so what makes a difference, the people – front line, backstage – and the service we deliver. We are lucky to have a long tradition of hospitality in Oman, I say we because although I have only been in the country a few months, I feel very much a part of it – and hospitality is very much a part of the DNA of the people of Oman.
“We also have an amazing tool – the New Muscat International Airport. It is the perfect size, you don’t have to walk miles to catch your flight unlike some of our neighbours and it is a great gateway to Oman and beyond. We are able to bring the local Greek customers to our destination and beyond. Oman Air’s lounge for premium guest is one of the best in the region and will soon have a fully operational spa operated by an international five-star hotel brand.
“The objective of this new flight besides linking two capitals cities, is to stimulate the economic trade and offering additional connectivity.
“Oman is a unique and authentic Middle East destination. We have just started a new stopover programme that will run to the end of September. Any passenger flying with us, is eligible for a stopover with one free night in a hotel,” said Recoura.
TTN’s Kim Thomson talked to Oman Air’s Laurent Recoura for further details about the Athens route launch, and he explained why the Indian market is also important for this route. “India is already a big market and is already there,” said Recoura. “There is a vacuum because of Jet Airways, it would be more of a tactical operation, reaction to the situation.”
An excerpt of the chat is here:
How will you distinguish yourself from the competition?
“If we want to compete with the big guys, we have to be close to the trade, close to our customers – we have to customise everything we do. We cannot just bid against them as we are not critical mass, so we don’t have to follow them on all the price initiatives. We have to invest more energy than the others because they are super brands, they sponsor big events, so for us it is very important that we have these close relationships with the trade, because most of our business is coming from the trade, so it is very important to improve our direct sales, so we are spending a lot of energy, time and money to upgrade the mobile application and website. We are really looking into new technology to improve the passenger experience.
Talking about the trade, what percentage do you get direct from the offline agents?
This varies by market, but the best majority is still with the trade. This is why we are investing in new technologies like NDC. This is a travel industry-supported programme launched by IATA for the development and market adoption of a new, XML-based data transmission standard (NDC Standard). The NDC Standard enhances the capability of communications between airlines and travel agents. So, we are part of that, we are NDC level three (3) certified. We are chasing the non-IATA agents in every market to ask them to join our programme, join the NDC and we will push content to them. And that is the way to get more direct sales, meaning, we bypass the GDS and yet still engaging with the trade, so we have to maintain a healthy balance between direct sales, same as the big guys.
When I hear that the trade will disappear, I don't agree with that. The trade is there and you need them. For me, it not the trade versus direct sales, it is all working together.
DAILY FLIGHT TO ATHENS
OMAN Air’s new service between Muscat and Athens is the airline’s 54th destination and the second route launched this year after Alexandria, Egypt and is part of the airline’s fleet and network expansion programme.
Muscat – Athens: WY 193 daily at 1435 arriving Athens International Airport at 1950
Athens – Muscat: WY 194 daily at 0020 arriving Muscat International Airport at 0715
(Boeing 737 aircraft with 150 economy and 12 business class seats)
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.