Lifestyle & Travel

Jan 1, 2015

New Travel Level

Arabian Gulf carriers are competing fiercely over creating new concepts of luxury travel, which includes flying bedrooms similar to those found in a yacht or a hotel.

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Only weeks after Etihad Airways announced its premium travel experience– which features private suites, apartments and business studios on its aircraft – Emirates Airline said it would match that by introducing a "bedroom concept". "It's all about privacy. That's very much in our current first class private suites product, and our new bedroom concept will take it to the next level," said Tim Clark, the president of Emirates.

"We're talking fully enclosed rooms, with all the touches and amenities that you'd expect in hotel or a private bedroom on a luxury yacht, room service and so on. It will be on our A380s, and on our new 777s."

Emirates said that it is in "advanced stages" of developing its bedroom concept. While it did not disclose the cost of a bedroom, it said that its current first class suite costs US$500,000 apiece, and with the 1,500 seats in its current fleet, that is a total investment of $750 million.

Emirates, the world's biggest customer of the Airbus A380 superjumbo, made headlines at the Dubai Airshow in November when it ordered $99 billion worth of aircraft – including 150 Boeing 777X and 50 A380s from Airbus.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) took note that premium travel in the Middle East has outperformed other markets globally. In March 2014, global premium travel rose 1.9 per cent year-on-year, slower than the 4.1 per cent in February. "Middle East premium travel performed solidly in March, particularly routes to Africa, from Europe, and to the Far East," said Hussein Dabbas, Iata's regional vice president for Africa-Middle East.

"The Gulf in particular is enjoying an acceleration in economic growth and tourism. It shows once again that this region is one of the strongest aviation markets in the world." Analysts said that the key to the success of Emirates new product will be the pricing. Etihad Residence Suite on the upper deck of its A380 costs $20,000 one way trip on its Abu Dhabi-London route.

"If its high like Etihad's Residence Suite, then perhaps it may stifle demand leading to discounting. And with high prices, Emirates will not want to discount so early on with a new cabin product," said Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research. Other analysts think that airlines need to revisit their business case of having premium travel products, which may not sell as well as business class seats.

"Premium travel is still in important segment in the Gulf market but more so business class than first class. First class is only supported on certain routes and many airlines globally have withdrawn it or offer it selectively," said John Strickland, the director of London-based JLS Consulting. "Airlines have to evaluate the cost of investment versus the likelihood of regularly selling the seats and the opportunity cost of having more seats in business class, which on many routes are more saleable."

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