‘Over a fifth of our flyers to & from India; crucial market for us’: Abu Dhabi’s Zayed International Airport CEO Elena Sorlini | India News

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NEW DELHI: Over the years, Emirates and its hub Dubai International Airport (DXB) have emerged as the single biggest transit point for Indian globetrotters outside of India. Now Dubai’s neighbouring Abu Dhabi is also drawing up major plans for its Zayed International Airport (AUH) as its home airline Etihad also firms up growth plans.
Being the only airport in the region to offer US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pre-clearance, it can be a big draw to attract America-bound flyers as Etihad ramps up operations.Zayed International Airport CEO Elena Sorlini told TOI traffic to and from India accounts for over a fifth (21%) of all footfalls at AUH. While 48 lakh people travelled to and from India last year, this number is expected to rise to 52 lakh in 2024. In a conversation with TOI, Sorlini details the plans AUH to attract more Indian flyers. Excerpts:
What is the current outlook for the Indian market in terms of passenger traffic at Zayed International Airport?
That is very promising, supported by significant developments and projections. With the latest improvements Zayed International Airport that is capable of accommodating up to 4.5 crore passengers annually has a substantial opportunity to attract more passengers, particularly from high-growth markets like India.
Notably, in 2023, approximately 48 lakh passengers traveled to and from India, highlighting the market’s significance, with this number expected to increase to 52 lakh in 2024.
We are committed to re-imagining the airport experience to meet the growing tourism demand in Abu Dhabi and solidify its status as a key hub for trade and commerce.
Key features such as state-of-the-art technology for expedited screenings, expansive retail and food & beverage offerings, premium services, and curated cultural experiences underscore our dedication to enhancing the traveller experience. Given that India constitutes 21% of all passengers traveling to or from Abu Dhabi, it remains a crucial market for us. As we continue to prioritise the needs of Indian travelers and invest in infrastructure and services tailored to their preferences, we anticipate sustained growth and further consolidation of our position as a preferred hub for Indian passengers traveling to and from Abu Dhabi.
Given the strength of Emirates and Dubai’s DXB, how do you plan to attract more India travellers?
Over recent years, there has been notable progress in traveler activity between Abu Dhabi and India, underscoring a burgeoning connection between the two regions. In 2023, approximately 48 lakh passengers traveled to and from India, constituting 21% of all travelers at Abu Dhabi Airport and solidifying India’s position as our primary market. Looking forward to 2024, we anticipate further growth, with projected passenger numbers reaching 52 lakh, indicative of a flourishing exchange between the two locations. To sustain this momentum and enhance traveler convenience, we have actively expanded direct flight connections to various Indian metropolises, ensuring greater accessibility and streamlined transit procedures for our valued passengers.
What is the direct connectivity between India and AUH like? How is it growing?
There has been a significant expansion in direct flight connections linking major Indian metropolitan centers with Abu Dhabi, aimed at facilitating smoother transit processes and reducing inconveniences associated with layovers.
In 2023, we introduced new direct links to Goa, Kolkata, and Lucknow, enhancing accessibility for passengers traveling between India and Abu Dhabi.
Looking ahead to 2024, we are delighted to announce the launch of a new route to Jaipur, operated by Etihad Airways, commencing in June with four weekly flights. These expansions not only improve connectivity but also contribute to a more seamless travel experience for our valued passengers. Additionally, to further enhance the layover experience, Zayed International Airport provides access to amenities such as an airside hotel with 138 rooms, 5 lounges and 163 outlets for passengers to shop and eat. Finally, Zayed International Airport distinguishes itself from the competition as the only airport in the region – and one of only 15 airports worldwide- to provide US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Preclearance, allowing travelers to bypass inspection lines upon arrival in the U.S. and further ensuring a hassle-free journey for travelers.
How has Zayed International Airport sustained its growth trajectory, particularly in terms of passenger throughput, amidst industry dynamics and changing market conditions?
Zayed International Airport has sustained its growth trajectory, especially in terms of passenger throughput, by implementing strategic initiatives amidst evolving industry dynamics and changing market conditions. Despite challenges, our airport has remained resilient, adapting to the shifting landscape while maintaining a focus on enhancing the traveler experience and optimizing operational efficiency. Through innovative solutions and proactive measures, we have successfully navigated challenges and continued to attract passengers, contributing to our sustained growth in the aviation sector.
Are there any plans to attract more Indian tourists and strengthen economic bonds between India and the United Arab Emirates through strategic partnerships ensuring seamless travel experiences and competitive pricing?
Given the strong relationship between India and the UAE, Zayed International Airport continually works towards maintaining India as a top-tier market, focusing on strategic collaborations, effective marketing campaigns, and tailor-made deals for the Indian market. Diplomatic relations between President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi promote cooperation between the nations, while the large Indian expatriate community contributes significantly to the UAE economy. Efforts are ongoing to address industry challenges related to fuel costs, staffing, and skills development to provide an exceptional travel experience for all passengers.

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