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Photo/ Press office of Gulf Air

First Full Service Carrier From GCC Region to Georgia: Interview with Gulf Air CEO

Gulf Air, the Kingdom of Bahrain’s national carrier, will open a new route to Georgia with direct flights to/from the capital city of Tbilisi which will come into effect from June 2017, with 3 weekly flights to/from Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport.

Interview with Gulf Air CEO – Mr Maher Salman Al Musallam.

Gulf Air operates one of the largest regional networks, with double daily flights or more to 10 regional cities, providing seamless connectivity for passengers travelling across its network via its efficient Bahrain International Airport hub.

– You have taken a decision to enter the Georgian market after respective analysis and examination. Prior to commencement of operation, how would you characterize the Georgian air market and its workload? Do you think the demand will be growing?

– Georgia is a highly attractive tourist destination for visitors from across the globe and its strategic location – on the crossroads of Europe and Asia benefits its ongoing future growth in terms of visitors. Gulf Air studied this route extensively before taking the decision to launch a direct service to Tbilisi and we have noted that international traveler arrivals to Georgia have been growing rapidly; this is a positive development that we anticipate will continue to grow.

Alongside this, we are seeing greater interest from the region as some GCC based carriers serve Tbilisi. We are excited to be launching a new direct 3 weekly service between Bahrain and Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport in Georgia effective 22nd June 2017. With this route we are catering to leisure travelers from across our network but particularly from the GCC region, helping them discover a captivating country – steeped in history, culture and arts.

We will be the first full service carrier from the GCC region to transport passengers from the GCC, via Bahrain, to Georgia and Gulf Air’s impressive regional network, one of the largest in the Middle East, with double daily flights or more to 10 regional cities, in addition to select destinations in the Indian Subcontinent and Europe, from our hub at Bahrain International Airport means that we can conveniently, efficiently and seamlessly transport passengers from across the region to and from Georgia.

–  For a small country like Georgia entrance of Gulf Air is an important factor for attracting more tourists and investors. What are you plans for growing the passenger turnover?

– We look forward to working hand in hand with the Georgian National Tourism Administration and various other related entities, to raise awareness of Georgia in Bahrain and across the GCC and simultaneously raise awareness of Gulf Air’s direct link to Tbilisi and our product and service offering that distinguishes us as an airline. I personally have already met with the Georgian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman H.E. George Janjgava to discuss future collaboration and joint promotion of our upcoming new route to Tbilisi.

In order to make this route a success we must focus on creating synergy between all parties for mutual benefit – I believe this is a promising beginning and I hope to see us all reap the fruits of our continued and sustained efforts.

–  Besides Bahrein-Tbilisi-Bahrein flight, do you plan to include other regions of Georgia in the schedule on tourism season, for example, Ajara Region to launch flights to Batumi?

– We are always assessing our network offering both in terms of destinations served and frequencies. Our mission is to provide safe and reliable air transportation delivered with contemporary Arabian hospitality. As we work to respond and cater to passenger demand, wherever we see increased need we endeavor to provide tailored travel solutions. Once we have entered Georgia and assessed our service to Tbilisi and given the route all the support needed to grow in popularity we will review other options within the country – including seasonal destinations.

–  According to statistics, more than 50% of tourists from Arab countries use air borders for entering the country. How many passengers will your airline transport a month on average?

– We can’t comment or predict numbers at this time, it would be unwise and misleading to do so. Given the appropriate support from across our network, and over time, we hope that Gulf Air’s Tbilisi service will be popular and profitable for the airline, serving the needs of GCC regional travelers who can easily discover Georgia with our service.

It is important to note that Gulf Air’s measured, strategic network expansion over the coming years will see us, between now and 2023, expand our network to serve 60 destinations. We focus on high yield, point-to-point routes connecting regional markets alongside select, strategic international connections. Georgia is one such international destination that will be of strategic importance to Gulf Air’s offering and which will further benefit as our network expands over the coming years.

–  Georgian passengers prefer to pay visits to Near East and Asian countries in winter-autumn period. At the same time, Georgia actively popularizes winter resorts. Do you plan to perform flights in winter navigation season too?

– We are pleased to be offering regular, year-round direct service between Tbilisi and Bahrain giving Gulf Air passengers from across our network the chance to explore Georgia year-round.

–  Having been admitted to Georgian market, the airline has introduced 25% discount tariffs on Bahrein-Tbilisi flights. How often do you offer similar discount packages to customers and what additional preferences will the airline use for stimulating the demand?

– Gulf Air offers regular, attractive fare promotions and discounts via our official website gulfair.com on select routes in order to stimulate demand. In addition to this, our loyalty programme makes frequent travel more appealing and rewarding. Our attractive FalconFlyer Programme, with its innovative incentives and benefits for the airline’s frequent flyers, offers members attractive privileges and value-added benefits such as bonus miles up to 250%, family membership and special privileges both on the ground and in the air. Other advantages of the program include the best redemption rates and the best miles earning system for premium class in the GCC and Middle East region, special online booking bonuses, a generous baggage allowance, three years miles validity, unlimited lounge access, priority baggage handling and guaranteed seats among many other benefits intended to make the traveling experience more enjoyable and rewarding. Further information about Gulf Air’s FalconFlyer programme can be found online by visiting gulfair.com

–  Which categories (families, business tours, young tourists) and which price segment do you expect to give preference to Gulf Air airline?

Gulf-Air

– We cater to a diverse passenger base and we believe that Georgia’s tourist offering will appeal to travelers from across the Gulf Air network particularly the family traveler segment.

–  As to long-term plans, three Arab airlines perform flights berween Georgia and Arab countries. Workload of these three companies on Georgian market ranges from 55% to 80%. What are your expectations and calculations in this respect for the coming years? What ratio do you expect to control on Georgian air market?

– We are excited to tap into existing and growing demand for travel to Georgia from across our network and particularly from the GCC region. Our offering differs to that of other Arab and GCC-based airlines that are currently serving the market. Firstly and as I mentioned earlier, we will be the first full service carrier from the GCC region to transport passengers from the GCC, via Bahrain, to Georgia and Gulf Air’s impressive regional network, one of the largest in the Middle East, with double daily flights or more to 10 regional cities, in addition to select destinations in the Indian Subcontinent and Europe, from our hub at Bahrain International Airport means that we can conveniently, efficiently and seamlessly transport passengers from across the region to and from Georgia.

That’s not all. We were one of the first airline’s established in the region (in 1950) and our pioneering history has built a strong brand – regionally and internationally. Gulf Air is a recognized and respected brand and our passengers, I am pleased to say, are loyal to the airline and well acquainted with our distinctive product and service offering that complements the convenience and flexibility of our travel solutions.

By starting a direct service to Georgia we are giving a key market in the GCC the chance to explore Tbilisi and beyond with Gulf Air and I trust that this will be a very positive development for all parties.

– Gulf Air operates on air market of many countries. What kind of relations does the airline have with Georgian Civil Aviation Agency and in general, how simple is it to obtain flight mermission on Georgian air market?

– We are grateful for all the support extended to us by the Georgian Civil Aviation Agency and various other entities and aviation authorities in Georgia who helped facilitate our entry into this new market. Georgia has an impressive infrastructure in place that allows airlines to operate easily in this country – with welcoming and attractive policies in place.