x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Integration set to help grow traffic

Tourism in the UAE and Australia is expected to receive a boost after Etihad Airways tied up with Virgin Blue Group.

Tourist arrivals into the UAE and Australia are set to grow as Etihad Airways and Virgin Blue increase their services between the two countries.

The airline partnership enables the two carriers to integrate their networks to feed more traffic into the UAE and Australia, including Virgin Blue's long-haul arm, V Australia.

The airlines will begin marketing the two countries in their home markets as well as in Europe, but have urged government agencies such as Tourism Australia to do more to stimulate demand. An estimated 25,000 Australians stayed at Abu Dhabi hotels last year, a rise of 18 per cent from 2009, according to Lawrence Franklin, the director of strategy and policy at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

With Virgin Blue now marketing the UAE as a destination "we are excited about the partnership's potential for this market this year", he said.

Optimism is also brimming in Australia, where government forecasts estimate 138,000 tourism arrivals from the Middle East this year, a 14.9 per cent rise on last year.

The market is concentrated in a busy three-month summer season in Queensland's Gold Coast. GCC residents are considered among the highest value tourists because of high average spending, long stays and the fact they travel with their families.

"They all get an apartment and stay for three to four weeks," said Anthony Hayes, the chief executive of Tourism Queensland, whose office in Abu Dhabi is the only Australian tourism representation in the Middle East.

"The kids go to theme parks, the wives go shopping, and the husbands get some peace and quiet."

The average UAE family spends 37 nights on an Australian holiday, while Saudi tourists stay on average for 79 nights.

Mr Hayes called the deal "one of the most important things that have happened [in the tourism industry] in recent memory".

"For all visitors coming from the Gulf into Australia, 94 per cent of them go to the Gold Coast, so for us it's a most amazing opportunity," he said.

Etihad executives believethe tie-up can drive more tourists to gateway cities the carrier serves, such as Sydney and Melbourne, as stop-overs for travellers' undertaking Gold Coast holidays.

"Tourism Australia, now with V Australia [launching flights into Abu Dhabi], has a great opportunity to step up their game," said James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad.

Tourism Australia's first initiatives could include creating a joint marketing partnership with Etihad, including advertising, media trips and other campaigns in important home markets for the Australian tourism market such as the UK, Germany and France, said Frances-Anne Keeler, Tourism Australia's executive general manager.