The Arabian Travel Market (ATM), held this week in Dubai, just six weeks before Emirates launches its new route to Israel on June 23, was the best venue for a special and exclusive interview with Adil Al Ghaith, Senior VP of Commercial Operations Gulf, Middle East & Iran at the world-renowned carrier.
As head of marketing and international relations at Dubai’s flag carrier, Adil Al Ghaith is one of the primary architects of the Dubai-Tel Aviv route, and this was the perfect opportunity for him to share with us his insights and expectations, both for the soon-to-be-launched route, for the company and the aviation industry as a whole.
Emirates enjoys a stellar reputation worldwide. Even during the pandemic, you didn’t shut down your operations, you simply reduced your activity. How do you see the company’s standing these days?
“Business is booming. We see a huge demand for flights. Obviously, now that most corona restrictions have been lifted, it helps in the recovery of the aviation industry. We believe it will continue, so by the end of the year, we will see Emirates go back almost to pre-pandemic numbers, and next year we believe we will see even higher numbers than in 2019. We conduct ourselves in a very orderly fashion. People are looking forward to flying and going on vacations after being so restricted in the last couple of years. We have excellent and responsible management, and we are coping well with all the changes in the industry.”
Next month you are launching the route to Israel. What are your expectations?
“Indeed, we will start flying to Israel on June 23. It will be a daily flight with the Boeing 777. The route is already integrated into our booking system, and we are excited to launch the route to Tel Aviv. We were planning to launch the route a long time ago but had to postpone due to coronavirus and the various restrictions it brought with it. I am very optimistic, I look forward to the launch, and I am positive the flights to and from Tel Aviv will be highly successful now that Israel has removed most of the restrictions as well. We are already witnessing high demand for connecting Emirates flights to Africa and the United States. About six weeks before the launch, we are already quite satisfied with demand from Israel.”
How do you think Israelis will respond to Emirates?
“I’m sure they will be delighted. They have heard of us, and they know our reputation. We have a stellar track record among European and American travelers, and we are confident that Israeli travelers will feel the same. We also offer the Israeli market some excellent connections from Dubai to destinations worldwide, along with all of our code-share agreements with various companies. That is one of our great advantages, which Israeli passengers will surely appreciate.”
Dubai has become a major destination for Israelis. I stay at the Hilton Hotel and feel like I’m in Israel. Everyone speaks Hebrew, and everybody loves Dubai. According to all aviation experts, Emirates’ arrival in Israel is a significant milestone for us.
“I estimate that our route to Israel will put some pressure on other airlines, but we are pleased to have a major impact on the aviation industry.”
Did Emirates’ top management expect to see such huge numbers of Israelis visiting Dubai?
“We have anticipated this would happen after the signing of the Abraham Accords between our countries, but it is clear to us that the pandemic and travel restrictions have also deterred many travelers. However, we know Dubai has always interested Israelis. I am pleased to see that we are such an attractive destination for Israelis, who can now get here on a short flight without a visa and enjoy a country offering such a high level of service.”
Do you expect that we will also see more Emiratis visiting Israel in the future?
“Yes, of course. The Accords and the relationship between us will benefit both sides. We still need to work on this issue, encourage Emiratis to visit, and promote Israel as a destination, and I believe that many would love to visit Israel.”
Even during the pandemic, you had quite a lot of international visitors, thanks to the use of advanced technology and, of course, with the help of Expo2020.
“What has happened in Dubai in recent years is nothing short of amazing. Our development and use of advanced technology is a source of pride, and we offer so many attractions, excellent infrastructure, and the Expo, of course. Therefore, tourists from all over the world are eager to visit, see and experience Dubai. Our tourism industry management is top-notch. Unfortunately, we had to postpone Expo2020 for a year due to the pandemic, but the move has proven itself. The number of tourists is extraordinary, really. Even we had a hard time believing we can achieve such a high volume of international tourists.”
Israel chose to close its borders and restrict entry to prevent tourists from bringing the virus into Israel. You had a different approach altogether.
“Yes, The approach was different. We considered a lot how to bring in the tourists despite corona, yet we were also very strict about health regulations and safety rules. For example, look at the place where we are now sitting. It was still used as a makeshift hospital for corona patients just a month ago, and now it has resumed its original role as the Dubai Exhibition Center.”
You have just launched a new Premium Economy Class in your wide-body aircraft. How are the responses?
“I do not know if you saw the display at our pavilion. The new configuration is now installed in a few planes, and anyone who saw or experienced it was very much impressed with the comfort level. The new Premium Economy will be gradually installed in all of our wide-body aircraft, creating a unique flight experience for passengers to enjoy. As early as June 1, passengers flying in Economy will be able to upgrade for a small additional fee and enjoy exceptional service in the Premium Economy Class on several of our main routes. The new class will be installed on most of our A380s and 777s, and by the end of the renovation process, Emirates will have a total of 111 aircraft offering the new Premium Economy.”
How do you see the near future of the aviation industry as a whole, now that we are witnessing a remarkable recovery, even though there are still some traffic restrictions in place, in China, for example?
“It is quite clear that some varying restrictions still exist in some countries, but these will not remain for long. We believe and estimate that the entire industry will return to the levels and volumes of activity that preceded the pandemic fairly soon, even sooner than expected. People want to go back to flying, traveling, vacationing, and we are witnessing this growing demand daily.”
What about business travel?
“MICE and business travel is also gradually, yet slowly, recovering. Business people prefer direct contact and face-to-face meetings; they would rather network at conferences and events. Therefore, I am certain that business travel will also return to 2019 levels quite soon.”
What is the size of your fleet, and how many destinations do you offer?
“Our fleet includes more than 250 wide-body aircraft, all Airbus A380-800s and Boeing 777s, most of them LR 777-300s, and we have placed an order for more than 200 newer aircraft from the two major manufacturers. However, due to coronavirus, we have also canceled flights to various destinations, and very soon, we will return to fly to all 140 destinations in our network.”
Thank you very much; I wish you every success, and let me add that we are thrilled to have you in Israel.
“We are just as thrilled to be there. See you next month when I arrive in Israel on our debut flight.”