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Sun 1 Apr 2007 12:00 AM

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Malaysia leads Etihad’s popularity table

Malaysia has superseded Thailand in the popularity stakes, while holidays to Sri Lanka have witnessed an unexpected boom, according to Etihad Holidays.

Malaysia has superseded Thailand in the popularity stakes, while holidays to Sri Lanka have witnessed an unexpected boom, according to Etihad Holidays.

Malaysia has been the tour operator's top-selling destination since January, taking the coveted spot from Thailand, which ruled the roost during 2006.

The reason, according to Etihad Holidays general manager, Nick Wood, is not that local demand to Thailand has dwindled, but that capacity on Etihad Airways' double daily Abu Dhabi-Bangkok service is tight.

"The European market to Thailand is very strong and has a longer lead booking time than the UAE market, which has sadly led to us having to turn away local bookings because there is literally no space left on the flights [to Bangkok] at short notice," he explained.

"We are therefore telling the local trade to tell their clients to book early - at least six weeks before departure - to avoid disappointment."

Malaysia, he added, was the 10th best selling destination for Etihad Holidays even before Etihad Airways started flying there.

The new non-stop service from Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur, launched in January, is therefore catering to pent-up demand, elevating the destination to top spot.

In fifth place on the top-sellers table is Sri Lanka, despite prevailing instability in the North and the East of the country.

"People have realised that the tourist areas aren't really affected," said Wood. "A lot of business goes to the south [of the country] and Colombo is a relatively short hop - less than four hours by air - from Abu Dhabi."

Wood noted several travel trends for 2006-2007, including a high level of repeat business.

"Customers are not just travelling with us once or twice a year, but many times, including Arab nationals," he said. Last summer saw a significant increase in fly-drive sales to locations such as Switzerland, he added.

Etihad Holidays is also attracting an increasing number of customers living the "Jebel Ali end of Dubai", he noted, although no statistics revealing the growth of this market are available.

Wood is currently preparing to launch the Etihad Holidays 2007-2008 brochure in time for ATM, featuring several new destinations such as Australia, Ireland and Italy, in line with Etihad's route launches.

Travel agents can expect a significantly expanded range of holiday options with more detailed destination information to help them and their customers make informed choices about which holidays are best suited to their needs.

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