Having the wings to go the distance

Qatar Airways has just strengthened its presence in Vietnam by adding flights to its Ho Chi Minh City route and launching scheduled flights to Hanoi, aiming to exploit Vietnam’s growing economy. Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker tells VIR what he expects from this market.

Many people said Vietnam is still a small aviation market, but why did Qatar Airways decide to

Mr Akbar Al Baker

increase flights to Vietnam?

Vietnam is not a small market, Vietnam has a very strong economic growth and is a large country.

I have confidence in Vietnamese people and its government. Vietnam will be a very strong and large market in the future and we want to play a part in this economy.

Japan, after 1945, which was also a small market and completely destroyed, today is the second largest economy in the world. An airline operating in a new market does not expect to make money immediately.

On the Doha-Hanoi route, Vietnam is a big contributor to the route that we operate, so the airline is not looking at only making profits point-to-point, but looking at the general picture.

We are investing in the future of Vietnam. I cannot tell you details of our future plans in Vietnam, but one day we could have daily flights to Hanoi like the Doha-Ho Chi Minh City route.

What do you expect from Vietnam’s market? What kinds of passengers does Qatar Airways expect to contribute to the airline’s profits?

Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam’s Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs for letting about 100,000 Vietnamese labourers enter Qatar. They will use our flights. But, we not only want to offer our services to Vietnamese workers, we also want to attract businessmen and tourists.

For our flights to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnamese labourers account for 23 per cent of the traffic, the remainder is businessmen and tourists. When we launch any new destination, it will open a chance for tourism sector of the two related countries.

If someone asks whether a Qatari will spend a lot of money in Vietnam, I believe the answer is yes. Vietnam is a new destination to them and it is now convenient to come Vietnam with our flights. I believe that with the new Doha-Hanoi route, many Qatari will visit Hanoi. The more flights, the more tourists visit Vietnam.

Vietnam is now calling foreign investment from Middle East countries including Qatar and many investors from the region visiting Vietnam to seek investment opportunities. Is investment relationship between Vietnam and Qatar also a major reason for the airline to expand flights to Vietnam?

The expansion of Qatar Airways in this market is not only related to the recent investment relationship between the two countries. It is related to the economic development of Vietnam.

It is true that any investment relationship will boost the development of our airlines, but Vietnam is not only attracting investors from Qatar, it is attracting investors all around the world.

This makes us more confident in the development of Vietnamese market. Three years ago, when we launched Ho Chi Minh City routes, we saw a strong development in Vietnam as a new destination for tourism and also investment.

In recent years some low-cost carriers have opened routes to Vietnam and some domestic low-cost carriers wanted to expand operations into international routes. As one of the most luxurious airlines in the world, are you afraid of the competition from low-cost rivals?

The world’s population is very large and not all of them wants to fly with low-cost carriers. I don’t think a low-cost carrier could offer you flexibility.

Many people want comfortable services from our flights. We are one of the most luxurious carriers in the world and we believe this route will lure a huge number of passengers. We are not afraid of competition.

We have been operating in many routes around the world where also having the presence of low-cost carriers but we still have a large occupied seat ratio in both business class and economy class.

The Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport reported that ground aviation facilities in Vietnam are overloaded. After three years operating in Vietnam, do these facilities satisfy Qatar Airways?

Ground facilities in Vietnam are adequate and they are handling our airplanes adequately and professionally. And when you have a nice house, you don’t need a palace. Vietnam has functional airports, that are fine. They are still better than many airports in the world where we open routes to.

Source vir.com.vn