by Kevin Rozario (London, United Kingdom)
A joined up approach to aviation, travel and tourism was underlined at the recent in-person Arab Aviation Summit.
The ninth Arab Aviation Summit (AAS), which took place at the end of February in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, concluded on a high note as industry stakeholders were generally confident that the Middle East region would recover strongly this year.
However, they also underlined the need for greater collaboration and dialogue between governments, regulators and operators to smooth the rebound.
Under the theme Roadmap to Recovery, AAS – a forum for public-private cooperation – brought more than 750 international and local industry experts, as well as media, together at Al Hamra International Exhibition & Conference Centre. They discussed a series of aviation and tourism topics spread over two days from February 28.
CEO of Modalis Infrastructure Partners, Curtis Grad, who moderated the Airport Sustainability and Future Developments session, said: “The summit brought together key players including aircraft manufacturers, airlines, airport operators and investors, plus the travel and tourism trade, financiers and governments. They were all laser-focused on ushering in a robust aviation recovery, post pandemic.
“What was crystal clear throughout the event is that rebuilding our industry will not only be based on financial and economic restructuring, but on environment sustainability as well. The silver lining from the COVID19 storm is that we have the opportunity – and duty – to build back better, stronger, more resilient and more adaptable than ever before.”
Middle East Bounce-back
Other high-profile industry speakers discussed the state of air transportation and tourism in the Arab world, and its wider effect on the global economy. Views were fairly consistent that there would be meaningful growth this year.
IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, Kamil Al-Awadhi, described the region as “very resilient and nimble” in its ability to adapt. He had a positive outlook for aviation in 2022 and is hoping for a significant increase in demand in the next six months. Muzzammil Ahussian, executive vice president of travel at Seera Group said he expected 2022 would be back to pre-pandemic levels with Saudi Arabia as a destination that many tourists would want to visit.
Samer Majali, CEO of Royal Jordanian Airlines was cautiously optimistic thanks to the wide removal of entry restrictions across much of the world. But he highlighted the new challenges presented by the conflict in Eastern Europe.
On the airport side, Atanasios Titonis, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, said the pandemic was very challenging but that the sector is “the best crisis manager” and, going forward, it is well prepared for future crises. Vice president of aviation development at Istanbul Airport, Majid Khan, said he expected a full recovery by the end of the year, and noted that the Middle East is a strong market for Turkey’s hub airport.
Addressing Carbon Emissions
Mikail Hourari, president of Airbus Africa Middle East also expected the region to demonstrate strong recovery. But he added that the future of aviation lay in sustainability and it was necessary to tackle negative perceptions of the industry when it came to its impact on carbon emissions.
Kuwait Airways CEO, Maen Razouqi, raised the need for collaboration through joint ventures and partnerships to ensure sector resilience. Meanwhile, Adel Al Ali, group CEO of Air Arabia, commented that consumer behaviour was changing, especially among younger generations. He said that they prioritize value-added competitive pricing over luxury and he also highlighted the importance of having a seamless travel experience.
Among the main takeaways from the event were:
- the need for greater investment in technology to respond to changing passenger behavior, which is shifting towards a preference for a seamless and digital experience
- the importance of sustainability and the industry’s role in achieving net zero carbon emissions
- aviation’s role in supporting the tourism industry which, in turn, acts as a catalyst for economic development and pandemic recovery in the region.
A whitepaper with recommendations following the 2022 AAS will be published soon.
[Main image: The AAS panel on How are airlines thriving? New operational models and success cases.]