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 Nigeriaâ€™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?
Thatâ€™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.