We believe that it is important to re-establish the Silk Road. In the coming years, we will be flying to mainland China and Hong Kong. In addition, we will focus on traffic from China to Europe and Africa that connects through Turkey. This relationship may be one of the processes that triggers Turkey’s position as a logistics hub. Considering the activity over the last five years, the economic relations between Turkey and China have increased tremendously. Five years ago, the total volume of trade was $2 billion, and now it is $20 billion. In the medium term, we expect this figure to increase to $50 billion, and $100 billion by 2022. Nowhere in the world are rates increasing at this speed. Meanwhile, we maintain our traditional foreign trade partners such as Germany, Italy, France, and the UK. These are the countries where exports and imports involve a large amount of high value-added material. For a country to be a logistics hub and center, every mode of transportation should be managed and developed in terms of capacity and infrastructure. In land transportation, Turkey is strong, and on the maritime side it is developing. However, air transport is the fastest growing mode of transportation in cargo. In order to be a serious and substantial hub, we need to offer flexible capacity, as well as services for the surrounding countries in the long term.
Despite the overall slowdown in Europe and Asia, more than 31,000 passengers flew Gulf Air to the Turkish commercial capital, Istanbul, in 2011. Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Istanbul continues to be a popular destination for travelers and their families. During 2011, Gulf Air increased its frequency to Istanbul from five to seven weekly flights, having a split-schedule with morning and evening flights. The convenient schedule allows smooth connections for passengers travelling via the airline’s hub in Bahrain to the largest Middle East network and to popular onward destinations, including the Indian subcontinent, the Far East, and the GCC region. Turkey is a strategic destination for Gulf Air, and Istanbul is an especially crucial market for us–both as a tourist destination and as a business hub, with more than 2,600 travelers a month. Passengers have been travelling between Istanbul and Bahrain since 1988, when our first operations started. As a contributor to Gulf Air’s network, the Turkish market is strong, with over 60% of sales from Istanbul, some being onward connections to our global network. A restructuring plan has been initiated with the goal of securing Gulf Air’s long-term sustainability. Maintaining our role as the region’s largest Middle East network is our aim in the current initiatives.
When we started a joint venture with Turkish Airlines it was very simple; make better food on board Turkish Airlines flights. That was the idea, and everything else fell into place. Our firm accounts for 100,000 meals in three shifts, which is a really large number. We use fresh ingredients and cook by hand, meaning that although we produce en masse, we do not compromise on quality. The mindset is a boutique approach, and Turkish Airlines is our partner in Turkey. We also cater and operate a lounge at the airport; it is an oasis where you can relax. There is a cinema, a café, a library, and you can play pool. There is also a newsroom and an olive garden. This increases brand awareness. We are considered in this country as an airline-catering brand. This is a premium part of our operations, but we are so much more. In Austria and other countries we do far more, and that is why we decided to open a location in Istanbul. I think it is a great opportunity in terms of the business itself, but far more it is an opportunity to develop brand awareness in the country and be ready for the next step of our expansion.
I started with Emirates in August 1993. I come from an export-import background and worked for British Airways and then Emirates. Dubai was largely unknown, and so I spoke to the Chamber of Commerce, customs, the warehouses, and cargo villages to discover the export-import trends. Then I did the same thing in Turkey. We went to Turkish producers and exporters, and we made a booklet translated into Turkish that showed how to do business with Dubai, how to invest in Dubai in the free zone, how to set up a company in the free zone or outside it, and how to export. They were trying to sell to Germany and the US, but they had quotas. In Dubai, there are no quotas. We gave them contacts. This was all before the internet of course, and this information is easier to access nowadays. For two years, my office was full of exporters looking to get contacts. After we built up the business to a certain extent, we started to promote Dubai as the closest place with the nicest beaches and sea when it is freezing in Turkey. During the cold winter months, the warmest places Turkish people used to go were to Florida and the Caribbean, which are about 16 hours flight time away. Dubai is just four hours away, offering luxury hotels, high-market restaurants, good shopping, very high-quality service, warm weather, and very nice beaches.
I represent KLM, Air France, and Delta Airlines in Turkey, which is an important country for all three airlines. Turkey is the origin of many of our passengers and also a key destination. Istanbul is especially booming and finds itself on all the top-10 lists for must-see capital cities in Europe. We have observed increased traffic to Turkey, with inbound and outbound industry passenger numbers totaling 13 million. This has made Turkey a market larger than Denmark, Austria, Portugal, and Greece. The market has yet to become as large as Italy, Germany, or Spain, but we expect it to continue expanding in the future. Considering the developments in the country’s GDP, the economy grew by 8% in 2011, compared to less than 1% in the eurozone. The Turkish economy is projected to grow by about 4% in 2012, compared to the -0.5% growth projected in Europe. This makes Turkey a key market for us, and we are basing our regional headquarters in Istanbul to underline the importance we attach to this market. We understand that in the coming decades, Turkey will be a crucial market for us. Similar to Germany, Italy, and Spain today, Turkey will be tomorrow. We need to be here, and we aim to create regional synergy and cost efficiency through our work in the country. Without a doubt, this is the perfect location for a regional office.
The phrase we use to describe this is “a land and sea integrated airline concept.” There was one government project to create a dolmuş-type air taxi. However, there are no aircraft available to provide this service. Our concept is not an air taxi; we want to offer affordable convenience. The luxury comes from saving time and offering our customers more freedom. We want everybody to be able to board a seaplane in Turkey. The concept is like mobile phones—anybody who wants one can get it. We want to offer a similar concept for seaplanes; it should not just be available for the privileged. Although a regional concept cannot be cheap, we hope to be an alternative and part of a supporting system to the airlines already in operation. Seabird Airlines is not going to be any different from other airlines with regard to scheduled flights. Our customers will be able to charter an airplane, but the company wants to operate mainly scheduled flights and be recognized as Turkey’s first sea, land, and snow airline. This aircraft is capable of everything, and we want to maximize those abilities. When we launch, customers will be able to book tickets online and catch a flight to Bozcaada for TL147 or Alaçatı for TL227 from the Golden Horn.
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