Emirates is offering its Ethiopian and Kenyan customers a free UAE visa when booking a ticket to Dubai, in an example of but one of a myriad of tactics being employed by Gulf carriers as they aggressively push for an ever greater share of the continent’s air traffic.
Emirates established operations in Ethiopia in March 2006, and now flies daily from Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport to Dubai, while operating double daily flights between Nairobi and Dubai. The limited offer for free visas runs for just over another three weeks.
A statement penned to Emirates’ Ethiopian country manager, Temima Kemal, and Kenyan country manager, Anita Kongson, noted the wide-ranging touristic draws of Dubai, and while highlighting the Burj Al Arab and Armani hotels, added that were options for all budgets.
However, while Dubai is indeed a favoured holiday destination for individuals from across the region, Africa’s aviation industry is more likely to see yet another undercutting tactic from a Gulf airline with lower taxation and fuel costs.
Emirates is planning to grow by 40% within Africa over the next decade, with the addition of 10 passenger destinations, potentially including Mozambique, Benin, Togo, Equatorial Guinea and Congo, while investment in its fleet will increase from $7bn to $12bn “within a few years”.
Ethiopian Airlines’ chief has been particularly vocal his rallying cries against Gulf domination of the African air market, and recently increased the frequency of his airline’s flights to Doha to three times a week, potentially after Qatar Airways began flights to Addis Ababa in 2013.
“We have tremendous competition coming from the Gulf carriers,” said CEO Tewolde Gebremariam, warning that African carriers risked being ‘swallowed and eaten for lunch’.
“All of us put together – Kenya Airways, Ethiopian, South African, Egyptair, Air Morocco, TAG Angola, CAM Air, Rwandair, Arik Air and so on – have only 20% of the market, and it will be a big, big challenge if we don’t do something to at least maintain 50% of the market.”
Gebremariam contrasts the treatment of Gulf carriers as strategic national assets to the relative indifference shown by African governments to their own carriers, ading that the “the contribution of aviation to social economic development is not being recognised.”
This month also saw Qatar Airways open a new route to Djibouti in a first for a mainstream flag carrier from the Gulf, though in contrast African markets with established national carriers like Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines, the expansion is only positive for Djibouti.
Marwan Koleilat, Chief Commercial Officer for Qatar Airways noted that, “Djibouti is still underserved by international airlines though the destination has a huge potential with its untapped natural resources and tourist opportunities.”