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This year’s edition of the Dubai HeliShow is all geared up for its run from November 06 – 08 at the Royal Pavilion, Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai South under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler, Dubai.

Etihad Airways anticipates introducing a 299-seat next-generation Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner on its daily mid-morning schedule from Abu Dhabi to Cairo, Egypt from October 28.


Q& A with Desmond Hatton


TRAVEL TRADE MENA: How successful was the last quarter of 2017 for your company? Please share the latest statistics if possible.

DESMOND HATTON: The last quarter of 2017 was a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges for the hotel. Overall, the business sentiments in the fourth quarter were positive and the hotels in the city competed fiercely to get their fair share of the market.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: What are your main feeder markets and what, in your opinion are the main reasons they choose Abu Dhabi as a sports destination?

DESMOND HATTON: The main feeder market for the hotel is definitely the Middle East, followed by Europe and emerging Asia. Abu Dhabi is a rising city when it comes to hosting international sports events. This is mainly attributed to the commitment of the local authorities towards sports and the allied infrastructure that is in place.
The city has successfully staged world-class sporting spectacles such as Formula One, Red Bull Air Race, HSBC Golf Championship, Abu Dhabi Cycling World Tour, Jiu-Jitsu Championship, ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi and FINA High Diving World Cup to name a few.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: How do you believe these qualities can, and should be further developed? Are any significant projects related to this industry currently underway or in the pipeline?

DESMOND HATTON: There can be more opportunities of collaboration between the stakeholders, including hotels, airlines, travel agents and local authorities to promote the destination internationally during these sports events in Abu Dhabi. It will provide a concrete base or buffer to the city that is currently reeling under the pressure of oversupply and limited demand.
The most anticipated sporting event of the decade will be 2019’s Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi. Needless to say, the city is gearing up for the games and preparing full steam to ensure seamless logistics.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: Are there any other upcoming high profile sports-related events you would like to tell us more about?

DESMOND HATTON: Undoubtedly, the Formula One has been the most successful sporting event in the recent times for the emirates capital city. Trailing closely, Mubadala World Tennis Championship has also been able to draw crowds over the last couple of years. The likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams among other tennis stars have awed the audience in the past with their striking knocks on Abu Dhabi soil. The HSBC Golf Championship has also been a success.
Besides the sports events mentioned above, the city has or will be hosting Abu Dhabi Cycling World Tour, Jiu-Jitsu Championship, ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi and FINA High Diving World Cup.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: What are some of the other activities a visitor to Abu Dhabi, or their families, can indulge in when not actively engaged in sports or watching a match?

DESMOND HATTON: Abu Dhabi is primarily a cultural and arts hub of the Middle East. Louvre Abu Dhabi, Grand Mosque and Manarat Al Saadiyat are truly the region’s most popular cultural sites worth visiting. Furthermore, the city boasts of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and an interesting mix of mall concepts, especially Yas Mall. There’s never a dull moment in Abu Dhabi. The tourists can bask some sunshine by the beachside on Corniche, Saadiyaat or even tee off at the city’s popular golf courses. The options to indulge in Abu Dhabi are limitless.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: Is there anything else you would like to add?

DESMOND HATTON: The Abu Dhabi is poised to grow further in the coming years. In the wake of the Dubai Expo 2020 and the upcoming Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi the city is definitely on a trajectory. However, on the flip side, the industry has become excruciatingly competitive with the opening of new hotels, resulting in the softening of the rates and eventually, hitting the bottom line of the hotels.
Bracing all odds with a sense of optimism, the hotel industry leaders and veterans feel quite bullish about the Abu Dhabi market in times ahead. In the midst of the upcoming projects, the business outlook looks bright for the emirates’ capital city.


Construction of Nakheel’s third expansion at Dubai’s Dragon City – an AED169 million (USD46.01 million) showroom and car park complex– has reached the 80 percent mark.

Bawadi Mall in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi is hosting a 24-hour Mega Sale featuring discounts of up to 90 percent across major brands from June 15 – 16.

Emirates will start a third daily service between Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport and Dubai, from an anticipated date of October 25.



TRAVEL TRADE MENA: In recent years, what have been the main airline technology changes, and what are the notable upcoming challenges? How are you responding to them?

THIERRY AUCOC: The aviation industry is constantly evolving. Recently across the industry we have seen a focus on unbundling which we have adjusted to in order to offer our customers more choices. Passengers can now choose from a variety of seat options, can chose different ticket fare options depending on the best fit for their journey, and can pay to enter our airport lounges regardless of which cabin class they travel in. Emirates will always remain a full service airline with a rich product offering but we will continue to look at different ways to offer more value for money options for our customers.

We are also seeing demand for airlines to become more digitally present, to which we’ve responded with our redesigned mobile app and web experience which includes a more simplified booking and check in process as well as Live Chat options.

Competition with low cost long haul carriers is increasing as technology advances and allows more airlines to fly direct, but we find competition healthy and motivating. Our strategy of offering passengers one convenient transit makes long haul travel extremely accessible. It also allows for unique city pairs in main markets in the east like China and Australia to and from cities through Europe and the US via only one stop in Dubai. We have always been on the forefront of innovation and technology and we will continue to offer our passengers state of the art products and services as well as seamless global connectivity.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: How do you envision the airline industry's future, and how do you believe your company will contribute to it?

THIERRY AUCOC: The airline industry will continue to grow as demand for global travel increases, especially in regions like Africa, the Middle East and Asia, particularly China, which is fast becoming one of the largest air travel markets in the world. Emirates, with its Dubai hub centrally located, is well positioned to meet the needs of these travellers. The ability to conveniently connect travellers from east to west and vice versa also helps to stimulate trade and tourism with in the markets we operate to.
Emirates remains the world’s largest international airline, with a network that spans over 150 destinations worldwide, operating a wide body fleet of Boeing B777 and Airbus A380 aircraft. We believe that our young, modern fleet and our on board products and services offer customers who fly Emirates an unparalleled flight experience.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: What new products, services, and/or facilities have you introduced recently? Please also include your future plans.

THIERRY AUCOC: Emirates has made a number of significant announcements over the past year. We introduced product enhancements on both our Boeing B777 and Airbus A380 aircrafts, we unveiled an enhanced Airbus A380 Onboard Lounge, and our Boeing B77-300ER First Class private suites saw a multi-million dollar game-changing upgrade.
Emirates also recently announced a new business class cabin configuration on the Boeing B777-200LR aircraft with wider seats in a 2-2-2 configuration for the very first time. Economy class seats in the B777-200LR have also been refreshed with full leather headrests with flexible side panels that can be adjusted for optimum support. Also in our economy class cabins, we introduced sustainable blankets made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles, making it the largest on board sustainable blanket programme in the airline industry.
We continue to find ways to meet customer demand with even more convenient flight options. In July 2017, we entered a partnership with flydubai, which offers passengers access to over 200 destinations through the combined network of the airlines. In the Americas we launched a direct year round service between Athens and New York and also recently announced a direct flight service from Dubai to Santiago, Chile. In addition, we have announced increased capacity to Istanbul, Lisbon and Auckland.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: What are you current main markets?

THIERRY AUCOC: Our main markets include Europe, especially the UK, France and Germany, as well India, the US, China and the Australasian region. Other important markets for us are the fast developing markets like Africa and South Asia.



TRAVEL TRADE MENA: Approximately, how many of your clients are visiting to enjoy active pursuits and where are they coming from?

HAITHAM MATTAR: In 2017, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism reported a growth of 19 percent in the overall number of guests. The UAE remains the most significant source market for tourism, accounting for almost half the visitors to Ras Al Khaimah in 2017; however we are also seeing significant growth from international markets. Germany, Russia, the UK and India respectively were Ras Al Khaimah’s largest source markets with the number of visitors from Russia increasing 79 percent versus 2016. The UK also saw solid visitor growth of 16.8 percent in 2017, largely due to the increase in UK tour operators bringing British holidaymakers to the emirate. 2017 was also the year of emerging market growth particularly amongst visitors from Eastern European countries. This year will see us focus even more on growing tourist arrivals from markets such as Scandinavia, Czech Republic and Kazakhstan while continuing our efforts to increase visitors from the UK, Germany and GCC and India which also witnessed double digit percentage growth.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: To what degree do you believe the availability of such activities influenced their decision to visit Ras Al Khaimah, and how do you capitalise on this?

HAITHAM MATTAR: With the growth of our adventure tourism product we are seeing more active adventurers visiting Ras Al Khaimah to experience the Via Ferrata and Jebel Jais Flight: The World’s Longest Zipline. The launch of the world’s longest zipline is a major milestone in the development of our tourism offer. This incredible feat of engineering has given us is a product that adventurer seekers from far and wide will have on their bucket list and many will visit us to experience. The media interest Jebel Jais Flight has garnered all over the world has also really helped us build global awareness of Ras Al Khaimah and drive consideration of the destination amongst our target groups.
However, adventure tourism is not our only target. As the region’s most diverse destination with a combination of amazing beaches, rugged mountains, luxury resorts and desert wilderness camps and just 45 minutes from Dubai International Airport we have great appeal to a broad audience. As part of our Destination Ras Al Khaimah 2019 strategy we are looking beyond traditional sun and sand holidaymakers and targeting cultural explorers and luxury indulgence and wellness seekers with product that meets their every need.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: With Ras Al Khaimah's active leisure facilities expanding over recent years, to what extent has this attracted more guests visiting for active experiences?

HAITHAM MATTAR: Ras Al Khaimah recently announced its quarter one (Q1) hotel occupancy which saw its highest occupancy in a quarter, averaging 79.4 percent in the first three months of the year. The figures which are up four percent versus the same period in 2017 have been driven by ever growing visitor numbers in the region’s fastest growing tourism destination. Overall, visitor numbers increased by 12 percent in the first quarter versus 2017. This was largely driven by growth from international markets, which rose 18 percent year-on-year and now account for 70 percent of the total visitor arrivals to the emirate. The UK and Nordics performed particularly strongly up 18 percent and 26 percent respectively year on year, while visitors from Poland grew by 46 percent and Czech Republic by 34 percent. The figures reinforce Ras Al Khaimah’s position as one to watch on the global stage; with Q1 progress well above the UNWTO forecasted global tourism growth of four percent this year.

TRAVEL TRADE MENA: What future active services/developments will be introduced soon to the emirate or to your company?

HAITHAM MATTAR: In response to visitor demand for the world’s longest zipline, we recently announced that phase two of the zipline that will open to visitors in the third quarter of this year. This will feature two new cables and will increase the capacity of the Jebel Jais Flight to 400 people per day, around 200,000 per year. We also have plans to grow our current hotel portfolio from just over 5,400 rooms to more than 10,000 by the end of 2020 and as we grow ever closer to reaching our visitor targets the need for quality hotel accommodation has never been so important.

Alexis Tsipras, prime minister, Greece recently gained deeper insights into Dubai's pioneering experience in building one of the world’s most competitive, attractive, and comprehensive maritime cluster.

In a bid to promote sustainable living, Dubai Properties unveiled what it describes as the Middle East’s largest living green wall at Dubai Wharf.