As Virgin Nigeria begins flights to Dubai, CEO Conrad Clifford tells SHALU CHANDRAN that the route serves both trade to Nigeria, as well as a gateway to China – and that it may be an African airline, but it conforms to European standards. Excerpts from an interview:
What has the response been since the launch?
Surprisingly good because 95 per cent of the market comes from Nigerians travelling here for the shopping and general tourism. The big thing is, we have a lot of Nigerian traders, who come to Dubai, purchase things and take them back to sell. And people on weekend shopping breaks .
So why Dubai?
Two reasons mainly. First the Nigerian traders, and secondly this is a gateway for those travelling to China particularly, and a lot of Nigerians travel to China for business. We’ve already tied up with Cathay Pacific, now we’re looking for other partners to connect into India, China and Pakistan.
What offerings do you have for travel agents?
We have got a whole bunch of different sorts of price offerings and we’re teaming up with various specialists to put together packages. Visas are always an issue for Nigerians, so we are talking to a number of operators on streamlining the process for our clients. Right now, it’s quite a rigmarole, so it’s better if somebody else organizes that for you.
What are the commissions for travel agents?
Standard. Nigeria is still standardizing commissions, so it’s normal commissions. There is talk in Nigeria at the moment about reducing commissions but as we are a new airline, we are not going to do that.
What do you have for passengers?
It’s a really nice product. It’s similar, but not the same as Virgin Atlantic and we have a warm hospitable Nigerian crew. We also have chauffeur services here in Dubai. In Lagos we are currently looking at new ideas, like helicopter transfers from the airport to downtown, which will be very exciting.
What sort of load factor do you expect?
Perfect load factors would be in the 70s.
OK. Does the EU ban affect business?
Yes it does. But it drives business towards us, because we operate according to high European standards. People chose Virgin Nigeria as a safe airline in Africa. It’s the Virgin brand, so we have to operate to that standard.
What about new routes?
We are set to fly to Accra, and will start Abidjan, Libreville, Monrovia and Freetown this year. There are also plans to open routes to Beirut and Bangkok.
When does this new route start showing profits?
I would hope by the end of the year.