Font Size

- Aa +

Sun 1 Jul 2007 12:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

A different perspective

Helicopter travel affords its passengers a 3-D view of the world's most awesome tourist sights and offers travel agents good commission-earning opportunities.

Industry professionals are starting to realise the need to sell customers a travel experience and offering them helicopter tours and travel can fulfil this requirement.

An aerial tour of a modern wonder of the world is often a one-off opportunity and the helicopter industry across the globe is starting to harness demand for such experiences.

Standard sightseeing tours are evolving into more elaborate packages that add greater value to the high costs of chartering a helicopter.

Then you have upcoming projects like Dubailand; the further they go out into the desert the more necessity there is for helicopter transport.

Most operators offer attractive incentives for agents, and with helicopter charter prices ranging from $2500 to $20,000, the potential for earning extra commission is huge.

For the leisure market, luxury helicopter travel offers an exciting way to view famous tourist attractions such as Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls and Australia's Great Barrier Reef, tours of which are bestsellers for helicopter companies.

Innovative operators are combining standard aerial tours with side trips to nearby attractions and these are proving particularly popular with the meetings and incentives market.

Business travellers today have greater choice when it comes to private air transfers, with helicopters making a serious bid for the transport mode of choice, serving time poor, cash rich clients.

The Middle East's helicopter industry is still in its infancy, as with the exception of the UAE, there is little call for leisure tours in the region.

But there are exceptions; tour operators in Jordan have had requests for transfers to Petra or the Dead Sea from Amman, but government restrictions mean that private commercial companies are not permitted to operate helicopter business.

Charter companies are therefore required to send requests for helicopter services to the Jordanian military, explains Teemar Asou, assistant operations manager, Jordanian Private Jets Services.

"Helicopter transfers are popular with businessmen or VIPs who don't want to spend their time travelling in a car," he explains. "We provide a full service from meet and assist to transfers to the helicopter and so on."

Back in the UAE, helicopter companies offer both leisure and corporate services, but Dubai Airwing-owned HeliDubai is the operator of choice for luxury flights.

It offers a small fleet of aircraft, each of which carries up to 10 passengers and is fitted with spacious leather seats.

"We fly businessmen to Abu Dhabi and back in the same morning and people with early morning meetings," says Captain Barry Smith, commercial director, HeliDubai.

"Nowadays time is money - you could be down in Abu Dhabi in 30 minutes from Dubai International Airport feeling nice and fresh climbing out of an air-conditioned helicopter."

Smith says the leisure component of the company's business is largely sourced from Russia, but he expects the market to grow as more luxury developments are built in Dubai.

"The further down the line we get with offshore projects like The Palm and The World, the more scope there is for expansion. The only way to get to The World is by boat or by helicopter at the moment," he explains.

"Then you have upcoming projects like Dubailand; the further they go out into the desert the more necessity there is for helicopter transport."

Other contenders in the helicopter charter market include Dubai-based Aerogulf and Abu-Dhabi based Falcon Aviation Services (FAS), which is reported to be looking into entering the Dubai market.

Their services include sightseeing tours of Dubai, taking in some of the key sights such as Sheikh Zayed Road, The Palm Jumeirah, The Burj Al Arab, and The World.

Other options include transfers from the airport to hotels such as the Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers, Kempinski Mall of the Emirates, or the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi.

"In order to appreciate the wonders of Abu Dhabi and Dubai you need to see them from the air, thus putting everything into perspective," explains Jason Martin, commercial director, FAS.

"The Islands around Abu Dhabi have been compared to the Maldives. The World Islands and Palm Jumeirah must be seen from the air to be appreciated. A helicopter tour is definitely a must-do for all visitors to the UAE."

FAS has plans to partner with Dubai-based travel company Alpha Tours to offer leisure helicopter tours through travel agents from July 15, but the company was unable to disclose any detailed information when ATN went to press.
Wonders of the world

Outside the region, helicopter tours can be found in most major cities and tourist areas, but there are several standout options that agents should be pushing this summer.

Diving or snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef is a must for anyone who visits Queensland in Australia, but a helicopter tour offers unparalleled views of the crystal clear waters, reefs, and atolls from above.

That is the kind of holiday that used to be reserved for the likes of Richard Branson.

Emirates Holidays recently partnered with Australian helicopter operator AVTA to offer its Gold Coast-bound customers an alternative way to see the landscape.

The tour operator has negotiated the exclusive use of Deloraine Island - a privately owned island not far from the Great Barrier and Heart Reef - which it has incorporated into a day-long helicopter tour and private island experience for top-end customers.

Thanks to the popularity of the destination with Arabs and expatriates alike, this luxury option should be an "easy sell" for travel agents, according to destination development manager, Asia and Australasia, Davinder Kaur.

"We can pick up guests from the Gold Coast, fly them across to Deloraine Island, and give them a two-hour lunch with a picnic hamper," she explains. "That is the kind of holiday that used to be reserved for the likes of Richard Branson."

Travelling from the Middle East in the opposite direction, Niagara Falls, The Statue of Liberty and Las Vegas, are three key tourist attractions that continue to prove popular with holidaymakers bound for the US.

Niagara Helicopters' director of marketing Aneta Fleming says the standard flight over the falls is now often combined with a stopover at one of the region's famous wineries.

"The falls/winery tour departs from the heliport and flies over Niagara Falls so everyone can get all their pictures. Then they have a choice of five world-class wineries to land at including Peller Estates, Chateau des Charmes or Inniskillin," she explains.

A growing percentage of the company's business is sourced from the incentive market, she adds.

Fleming says agents can earn up to $34 commission per booking for a regular flight over the falls. Local agents tend to up sell these tours as a way of maximising revenue, and Middle East companies can do the same, she advises.

The company also offers charters/transfers into Toronto Island airport so that guests can get downtown faster.

Adventurous couples can opt for a airborne helicopter wedding over Niagara Falls - minister included. Guests can also fly into golf courses from nearby airports.

In Zimbabwe Victoria Falls has the same allure as Niagara and travellers can combine a helicopter flight over the falls with a sky-high safari experience.

Shearwater Adventures has a tour offering customers a 15-minute flight over the falls followed by a trip over the Zambezi National Park, where they can see hippos, giraffes, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos.

The sales pitch


Emirates Holidays and AVTA:offers an exclusive air and island experience, including helicopter transfers from the Gold Coast to Coolangatta Airport, 1.5 hour flight in a Citation 7 private jet (seats eight) to Hamilton island in the Whitsundays, transfers to a twin-engine helicopter, return flights to Deloraine Island in the helicopter, two-hour lunch on the island with drinks, beach blankets, and umbrellas and snorkelling gear included. Prices start from US $21,087 per person. The helicopter flight can be extended to include the Great Barrier Reef for an additional $2530.

Falcon Aviation Services:a 30-minute city tour of Dubai or Abu Dhabi starts from AED 3990 (AED 665) per person for up to six people travelling in an EC130 helicopter.

Prices for a honeymooners' package, including stretched limousine transfer, 30-minute helicopter tour, complimentary drinks, bouquet of roses and lunch on board a cruise ship, are available on request, while a Shuttle Service from Abu Dhabi to Dubai starts from AED 2037 ($555) per person for up to six people.

HeliDubai:a 40-minute charter costs US $2725. Tailor made itineraries can be arranged on request.

Niagara Helicopters:a flight over Niagara Falls costs US $104 for adults and $61 for children aged two to 11. Children under the age of two fly for free. Incentive groups can charter helicopters from $11,723 per hour plus taxes.

Shearwater Adventures:the game flight combined with the Flight of the Angels tour starts from $170 per person.

For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.