Vie with Dubai

[Flight International Editor Murdo Morrison writes:]

Like some create your own city state computer game, Dubai is building at a breathtaking pace: the Gulf sheikdom is constructing the tallest tower block, awesome resort hotels, a theme park bigger than Disneyworld, a new motorway, a “media city” and a second international airport, and all in the time it would take most countries to hold a planning enquiry.

Dubai’s rulers run the virtually oil-less statelet – and government-owned Emirates, whose growth is inextricably linked to that of its home city – like furiously ambitious CEOs of some massive corporation, hiring the best managers the world has to offer and delivering on growth, market share and profitability every year.

Emirates’ strategy when it launched in the 1980s was to capture a sizeable chunk of the Europe to Asia-Pacific market by offering a top-notch service and the chance to hub through one of the world’s best retailing airports. Now the rapid growth of Dubai means origin and destination business is nudging towards half its overall passenger totals – from holidaymakers visiting for sun, sea, shopping and sport to international bankers and traders (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of expats – hotel cleaners, construction workers and airline bosses – who need to be ferried in and out).

Yesterday, I blogged about Qatar up the coast. Dubai’s oil rich neighbour Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, is no longer content to sit and count its oil revenues either. Its ruling elite have looked 150km down the Sheikh Zayed highway and decided they too want a bit of the Dubai magic and, having launched their own flag-carrier Etihad (and dumped their share in Gulf Air), are going all out to attract tourists and investors with their own leisure palaces, commercial centres and shopping malls.

When I spoke to Emirates’ airline boss Tim Clark earlier today, he suggested that not only was there room for Qatar, Etihad and Emirates, but that the market was probably underserved with three big hub carriers and dozens of smaller low-cost and regional players (pointedly he didn’t include Gulf Air…with Abu Dhabi’s departure that airline will be looking now to tiny Bahrain and less-developed Oman to drive its growth. It won’t be easy).

For lots more on what the region’s airlines are up to – as well as an insight into the burgeoning business aviation market – look out for my Dubai air show scene-setter in the 15 November issue of Flight International.

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