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Tue 1 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Dubai: the “New Londonâ€

ATN asks Conrad Clifford, CEO of Virgin Nigeria how the new Dubai-Lagos service will impact travel between West Africa and the Middle East and Asia

ATN: Flight VK312 is the first direct service between Dubai and Nigeria; how popular do you expect the service to be?

In Nigeria we are calling Dubai the New London: London is currently the top selling long haul destination out of Nigeria and we expect the Dubai service to be very popular also.

The bulk of the traffic will be inbound Nigerians visiting Dubai or transiting Dubai on their way to Asia.

We would expect a 60/40 split between business and leisure passengers respectively.

Traffic from the Middle East to Nigeria will be negligible.ATN: Why did you choose Dubai, and what impact do you expect the route to have on trade/tourism between the two hubs?

Because of its popularity with Nigerians as a business and leisure destination and as a transit point to Asia.

The Dubai route is part of our plan to serve five cities within 18 months of launch: London, Johannesburg, Dubai, Jeddah, New York.

We expect it to have a very significant impact.

A lot of traffic [to the Middle East] is currently carried via inconvenient mid points such as Addis Ababa and Nairobi; the market is there and it needs more non-stop services.ATN: How are you promoting the flight and have you teamed up with any hotels or tour operators to offer packages or special deals to encourage travel?

We have appointed GSAs in India and Dubai, but are still in the process of appointing other GSAs in the Middle East.

We have also formed a reciprocal partnership with Cathay Pacific to help distribute and promote our services in Asia Pacific.

We have incentives in place with all major agents in Nigeria.

Other projects [with the travel trade] are currently in the pipeline and will be announced soon.

We have already invited a number of agents on our inaugural flight for familiarisation.ATN: When will you consider increasing the number of flights on this route?

We would like to be at daily by this time next year.

We would like Dubai to be a transit point for our aircraft going on to Asia.

Nigerian traders are very active in Guangzhou [in China] and we want to fly there.

Our next Middle East city will be Jeddah.

We have a long wish list [of other routes in the Middle East]: Cairo and Beirut are top of that list.ATN: What have bookings been like to date?

Very encouraging and there is already a very high proportion of repeat business; the average Nigerian trader who consolidates shipments of goods to the West Africa region will travel two to three times a month to Dubai.ATN:What are Virgin Nigeria’s USPs?

For our Nigerian passengers, Nigerian service and food and excess baggage allowance.

For our international passengers, the warmth and hospitality of our staff combined with the world famous Virgin in-flight product.ATN: When do you think Nigeria will make a name for itself as a tourist destination?

That’s difficult to call: the priority of the Federal Government right now is to provide safe secure services and to correct the inadequacies in basic infrastructure, after that comes inbound tourism.

} We would like Dubai to be a transit point for
The Sales Pitch

The Dubai-Lagos service: Virgin Nigeria launched its Dubai-Lagos service on June 2.

The service operates three times a week, leaving Dubai at 11.20 on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and arriving in Lagos at 16.20.

The return service departs Lagos on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday at 22.30 and arrives in Dubai at 9.20 the following day.

Virgin Nigeria’s GSA for the UAE and Oman is Dubai-based Sharaftravel, which already handles Virgin Atlantics’ Dubai-London bookings. GSAs in other Middle East locations are yet to be appointed.

Virgin Nigeria’s vision: is “to become the leading global airline based in Africa.â€

Virgin Nigeria aims to turn Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos into an international hub for travel into and around Africa.

A consortium of Nigerian investors owns 51% of the company, while Virgin Atlantic Airways owns the remaining 49%, making it a wholly owned, private limited company.

Long haul: for flights of more than six hours, Virgin Nigeria operates an Airbus A340-300. This aircraft currently serves flights to Dubai, London and Johannesburg.

Long-haul Economy Class passengers receive a baggage allowance of two pieces of up to 32kg per person, complimentary bar service, two meals per flight, an in-flight entertainment pack with socks, eyeshades and headphones, and in-seat entertainment and personal TV screen.

Business Class services include dedicated check-in and fast track security facilities, Business Class lounge access at London Gatwick, a 6’8†flat sleeper seat, with lumbar support and infinite recline positions, a personal 10-inch video screen, luxury upholstery and hand-stitched leather detailing, and priority disembarkation and baggage reclaim.

Short haul: Virgin Nigerian also flies from Lagos to 13 destinations in West Africa.

The carrier currently operates two Airbus A320s on all regional and domestic flights from Lagos.

Six Boeing 737s are on order to serve short-haul destinations.

These will be delivered throughout 2006.

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