Interview with Mohammad Sarhan, Emirates Airlines VP – India & Nepal

Immense growth potential in Indian market
/ New Delhi
Literally as soon as the government lifted two-year old restrictions on number of international flights to India, Emirates Airlines was the first to restore its entire pre-pandemic capacity, with 170 flights a week. Mohammad Sarhan, Emirates VP - India & Nepal tells India Outbound that the potential of growth in Indian market is immense.
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Mohammad Sarhan

Mohammad Sarhan

How was Q1 2022 for Emirates Airlines? How did it fare vis a vis the same period in 2019? What are your projections for 2022?

With the easing of travel restrictions globally, demand for travel has been getting stronger. There has been a long pent-up demand during the pandemic with people being unable to travel or to meet their friends and family across the globe. We anticipate that barring further new waves of Covid-19 infections, we will continue to see robust demand for the rest of the year. We remain optimistic about the recovery of the travel industry.

Dubai has remained a popular destination for travellers during 2021 and the first quarter of 2022. The city successfully hosted Expo2020 which brought millions of visitors from around the world. As Dubai retained its position as one of the most popular stopovers and holiday destinations among customers, Emirates saw healthy demand and traffic for our flights connecting more than 120 destinations across the world through Dubai. In line with increasing demand, we have also been deploying additional flight frequencies to various points on our network.

In order to continue to offer our customers a comfortable and safe experience, we are constantly investing in our onboard product and service. Starting this year, we will retrofit 105 of our modern wide-body aircraft with Premium Economy and other cabin enhancements to provide customers with a renewed experience. Premium Economy will be introduced in 52 Emirates A-380 aircraft and 53 Boeing-777 aircraft in an 18-monthlong retrofit programme that will begin at the end of 2022. Over time, we plan to develop our Premium Economy class into a signature Emirates experience that will be unmatched in the industry.

How many flights a week do you currently have to India and how does that compare with pre-pandemic period?

Further to the decision by the Indian authorities to restore international flights in March 2022, Emirates is happy to have fully restored our pre-pandemic flight frequencies to India from April 1. We are currently operating 170 weekly flights to nine destinations across India – Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Thiruvananthapuram – which is the same capacity we have been offering before the pandemic. In India, we have also brought back the customer-favourite A-380 between Dubai and Mumbai.

How much did India account for in terms of your global business and what is the potential of the Indian market?

India has always been an integral part of Emirates’ route network for 36 years since the airline was first launched in 1985. India is a very important market for Emirates and we are committed to facilitating travel, tourism and business between India and the rest of the world through our passenger and cargo service.

During the pandemic, we worked closely with local authorities to operate repatriation flights to and from India, helping stranded citizens return home. In order to support Indian exports and support supply chains for vital imports, we operated scheduled and chartered freighter services to Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Thiruvananthapuram to ensure an adequate flow of critical supplies. During the month of May 2021, Emirates offered cargo capacity free of charge during the second wave of the pandemic in India for the transport of oxygen cylinders and other materials required to fight the disease under the framework of the Emirates India Humanitarian Airbridge.

India is an important market for us not only because of the excellent cultural and trade linkages we share with the country but also because of the immense growth potential of India. As one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world, the Indian aviation landscape has recently seen key developments, which can provide an impetus to that growth. One of the manifestations of India’s economic growth is the increasing discretionary spending of Indian travellers, who are demanding more premium travel options. This is where we see the potential for us to cater to these demands by offering our premium and signature experiences that are a class apart in the industry.

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What is your projection for revival of outbound travel from India in 2022?

With more markets opening in the run-up to the summer, Indian travellers are returning to air travel in ever larger numbers. Our network and flight frequencies help business, leisure and family travellers to connect conveniently to destinations in the Americas and Europe through Dubai.

Furthermore, India and the UAE share a close partnership, and the recently signed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) has enhanced the scope for bilateral trade and market access. As trade and travel stand to benefit as an outcome of the agreement, we stand ready to further facilitate these linkages and remain committed to strengthening our partnership with India by supporting its trade and tourism industries, safely and sustainably.

Emirates is currently operating 170 weekly flights to nine destinations across India

On which sectors are you seeing the biggest demand in India and is it very different from the situation in 2019?

We are currently seeing a rebound in demand for all the cities that we have re-introduced into India. The restrictions that existed especially for international travel from India has created a huge pent-up demand across the travelling population in India. Indians are flocking to all our leisure destinations and are taking advantage of the opening up of flights for visiting friends and family again.

There is also an increasing demand for MICE tourism and Dubai has become a destination of choice for such traffic because of the product offering being available alongside the balanced approach Dubai has taken against Covid-19.

There could be a slight delay in corporate traffic returning back to 2019 levels since not all corporates have come back to office. With India also open to tourists all over the world, we expect to be back to pre-Covid levels very soon.

How important was Dubai Expo for Emirates and what kind of traffic did you witness from India during the six-month period?

Very recently, we wrapped up six months of the Expo2020 Dubai. Emirates was a partner of the Expo and played a significant role in facilitating the iconic event. Since the start of the Expo in October last year, we flew millions of tourists to Dubai, including several thousands of passengers from India.

We invested more than USD 27 million to promote Expo globally and to enable our customers to learn more about it. More than 40 of our aircraft sported special Expo liveries to spread awareness of one of the world’s largest global events. We launched bold advertising campaigns featuring our cabin crew on the tip of Burj Khalifa and partnered with Hollywood actor Chris Hemsworth to reach out to our global audience. During the six months of the Expo, we introduced several special packages including a complimentary Expo Day pass for all Emirates passengers. Emirates also had a direct presence at the Expo with the Emirates Pavilion. The multi-sensory installations that employed technologies such as virtual reality allowed visitors to explore aircraft interior cabins of the future. The Emirates Pavillion offered not just a glimpse but a rich visual and sensory experience of air travel of the future.

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