Increasing visibility and an expanding airport are turning Lebanon into both a destination and a hub.

Frederic Gossot
Near East Regional Manager
Air France
Nicolas Meszaros
General Manager
Executive Aircraft Services

Air France-KLM has recently gone through a change of strategy to compete with short-haul carriers. How is this shift progressing?

FREDERIC GOSSOT Actually, it is not really a change of strategy, but something Air France needed to do to adapt to evolving markets and to benefit from potential traffic in the French provinces. We will launch regional bases in France starting with Marseille in October of 2011. In Marseille we are going to offer direct flights to more destinations in France and throughout Europe and the Mediterranean area. These regional bases will cut down on the rotation of aircraft, with cabin crews based in the provinces, and this will allow Air France to offer new possibilities at a lower cost.

What are your most popular destinations? Is this factor very much dependent on the type of client?

NICOLAS MESZAROS Our pilots can fly anywhere, and our operational certificates allow for this. The destination depends on the client. We have flown around the Middle East and Europe, even to Hong Kong. Our purpose is to offer our clients all the comforts they desire. For example, there are no direct flights to Dalaman in Turkey, and so the only way to get there directly is by private jet. If a client has a business meeting in Riyadh and wants to return to Beirut the same day, this would be impossible without a private jet. Our clients include celebrities, businessmen, and executives that travel for both business and pleasure. For example, Mikhail Gorbachev was one of our clients, and we took him back to Moscow. Placido Domingo was another famous passenger, and we have hosted many politicians.

What steps should be taken to raise the visibility of Lebanon as a destination?

FG Lebanon should make itself better known because it is often portrayed negatively in news headlines. Like any country, it needs to carry out a lot of marketing to promote its tourism industry. It is really a question of investment and marketing.

Current plans from the government target increasing the capacity of Rafic Hariri International Airport from 6 million to 18 million passengers per year. Do you see the potential for Beirut to become a regional aviation hub?

NM Beirut can be an aviation hub as it is very centrally located for all flights that move toward Asia from Europe. The airport is quite attractive and there is not a lot of traffic. You don't have any time slot issues. The airport needs maintenance facilities, as there are only three in Beirut, and it should be open for more investment and growth. In other countries around the region there are more facilities for the sector on offer.

Lebanese culture has close ties to France. How are you hoping to see more Lebanese travellers heading to France?

FG There is a very strong historical bond between France and Lebanon, so I would say there is already a natural flow between the two countries. However, France is a very rich country in terms of culture and of course Paris is not the only place to go. We really hope that a broader range of flights will help the Lebanese discover new parts of the country.