By James Wilkinson
Etihad Airways is aiming to grow its share of the MICE market going forward as it prepares to launch Melbourne flights in March 2009.
An Etihad Airways AIrbus A340-600
Speaking to SpiceNews in Sydney yesterday (December 8), Etihad Airways general manager – Australia & New Zealand, Lindsay White, said now that the airline has established itself in the Australian market, the goal is to focus on the MICE sector.
“Given that we are relatively new in the market and we are getting established quite firmly, we are starting to develop the MICE market,” he said. “But it does take some time and I don’t think you see the fruits of your labour (in the MICE market) until maybe a year or 18 months down the line.”
Since launching three weekly Abu Dhabi-Sydney flights in March 2007, Etihad Airways has continued to grow, with Sydney now served 11 times per week, Brisbane three and Melbourne daily from March 30, 2009.
Key conference and incentive destinations on Etihad include Abu Dhabi from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and Singapore from Brisbane — a route that is gaining in popularity for not just Etihad, but Singapore Airlines and Qantas, too.
White said the focus for the region in 2009 will be Melbourne, which joins the network in just over three months time.
“Melbourne is a big area of focus for us for next year,” he said. “Ideally, it would be nice to be saying in a couple of year’s time we are going double daily into Melbourne… that would be future aspirations for us.”
White said the airline also has ambitions to fly double daily into Sydney and daily into Brisbane in the not too distant future.
Looking forward, he said the airline is performing well and early indications are good for 2009.
“It’s very good. We have been very fortunate – the load factors have been in the high 90s (per cent) for the Sydney flights and there are very little signs of that dropping off,” he said.
Next year is also set to be a big one for Etihad’s home city of Abu Dhabi. Formula One debuts in the Middle East with the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November; a new, state-of-the-art terminal at Abu Dhabi Airport opens; several 5-star hotel chains make their Middle Eastern debut in the city; and construction continues on the highly anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museums.
“The development that is going on for Abu Dhabi as an area at the moment is phenomenal,” he said. “It is very much going to become the cultural capital of the Middle East.”