Budget airlines are increasing services between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, underscoring the demand for low-cost travel even in some of the world's richest nations.
The Dubai-based carrier flydubai will make Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, its 29th destination from January 7, the airline said yesterday.
This adds to the existing service of Air Arabia of Sharjah and nasair of Saudi Arabia.
"As an important neighbour of the UAE and with many ties between the two nations, our second route to Saudi Arabia is another milestone for flydubai," said Ghaith al Ghaith, the airline's chief executive.
"Frequent flights to the kingdom will help foster business connections, and as such we foresee a lot of travellers coming to the UAE to conduct business, and vice-versa."
The first destination in Saudi Arabia for flydubai was Abha, the capital of Asir province in the country's south-west. Like Yanbu, Abha was not previously served by budget flights to and from the UAE.
The service to Yanbu and Abha illustrates flydubai's strategy of stimulating new markets overlooked by major regional airlines such as Etihad Airways, Emirates Airline and Saudi Arabian Airlines. The budget carrier has grown quickly since its launch in June last year. In the past two weeks it has added four destinations: the Armenian capital, Yerevan; Abha; Sulaymaniyah in Iraq; and the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.
The Saudi budget airline nasair last week launched a weekly service between Abu Dhabi and Medina, the second direct service between that holy city and Abu Dhabi International Airport.
"The new destination comes as part of nasair's plan to expand its international route network, and nasair considers Abu Dhabi to be one of the most important international destinations in the Gulf," said Simon Stewart, the chief executive of nasair.
In addition, Air Arabia flies to four destinations in Saudi Arabia: Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah and Medina.
The market is primarily being driven by leisure trafficdominated by Saudi nationals and expatriates working in the kingdom, said Jim el Murr, the general manager of Salem Travel, a UAE company.
"The UAE is just a one-hour flight from Saudi Arabia, and it's a more open destination," Mr el Murr said. "Like in the UAE, people like to escape for weekend trips. You don't see a lot of corporate and business traffic."