Three major Gulf carriers have targeted the lucrative Japanese market with Etihad and Emirates starting services to Tokyo this week and Qatar due to follow on April 26.
Etihad and Emirates launched their services simultaneously from Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively at the weekend. The Etihad service will operate five times a week. The airline has also operated an Abu Dhabi-Nagoya service five times weekly since early last year.
Abu Dhabi Tourism deputy general manager Ahmed Hussain told the media that: “Japan and Abu Dhabi have long partnerships within the oil industry and certainly Japanese brands are among the most recognised and sought after in our ultra-modern shopping malls.”
According to industry figures, trade between Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) grew by 300 percent between 2002 and 2008, from US$14 billion to more than US$57 billion before the financial crash. There are estimated to be 350 Japanese companies operating and more than 3,500 Japanese expatriates working permanently in the UAE. Japan has been historically very reliant on Gulf oil, while the Gulf states encouraged Japanese investment especially in the field of technology. Japanese construction companies have also been heavily involved in huge projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Etihad also has code-share agreements with All Nippon Airlines to Sapporo, Fukuoka and Osaka. Emirates will operate five weekly flights to the Japanese capital, adding to its daily service to Osaka that was launched in 2002. The airline pulled its Nagoya route two years ago.
Richard Vaughan, divisional senior vice-president, commercial operations worldwide, Emirates, said: “We have a great deal of experience in serving Japan and we are confident of robust demand for our Tokyo services. There is already a solid demand from Tokyo. Almost 75,000 passengers from the Kanto area travelled to Dubai between 2008 and 2009 using our Osaka flight. We are happy to be able to offer a non-stop route for these passengers through our Narita service.”
Until now, none of the three major Gulf carriers had landing rights in Tokyo, being restricted to secondary cities such as Osaka and Nagoya.
The opening up of capacity at Narita was mentioned by Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker, who said: “Tokyo is Japan’s commercial and financial centre and has been on Qatar Airways’ wish list of destinations for a number of years. It is only now that we are able to serve Tokyo due to new traffic rights and slot availability at the city’s main Narita International Airport.”
The downfall of Japan Airlines (JAL) has offered a number of foreign carriers the opportunity to build niche routes and the Gulf states seek to be a hub to Europe and even Latin America. JAL announced it would cut international and domestic routes, including eight flights on routes from Tokyo to New York-Sao Paulo.
According to Japanese travel industry experts, the Gulf carriers will now aggressively target the ultra-long haul market from Latin America, principally Brazil, where there are 1.5 million Brazilians of Japanese descent. There are 350,000 Brazilians in Japan.
Currently, travel between Japan and Brazil has largely been through the US but long transit, security checks and connections there mean that the Gulf carriers may be able to compete on door-to-door timing.