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Fri 1 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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Sama surprised by online sales

One of Saudi Arabia's two new low cost carriers (LCCs) Sama has been taken aback by the number of bookings being made online.

One of Saudi Arabia's two new low cost carriers (LCCs) Sama has been taken aback by the number of bookings being made online.

"Our greatest channel is internet bookings and we are surprised by that. It's our biggest channel by millions," revealed chief executive officer Andrew Cowen speaking to ATN at last month's Arabian Travel Market.

"We have made the web site really easy and you can pay online, but customers can also book through our call centre, our sales shops, or with a travel agent."

Cowen also noted that Sama was one of the first airlines in the world that allowed you to pay for airline tickets at an ATM machine.

"That's even ahead of markets like Britain," he added.

Dammam-based Sama launched its inaugural flight on March 18 and currently flies to Riyadh, Jeddah, Medina and Jizan. Flights from Riyadh to Medina, Jeddah and Jizan are also available.

"From day one, many of our flights have been completely full. Our passenger mix is Saudi Arabian families, pilgrims and businessmen - we are getting an entire cross section," said Cowen.

Sama was due to announce new destinations in Saudi Arabia as ATN went to press and next year the fledgling airline hopes to win a license to fly overseas.

"That's our target and there is immense passenger demand. Clearly Dubai has to be at the top of the list in this region, but there are many other destinations around the Middle East, including some of the secondary cities," said Cowen.

He said it was "too early" to reveal whether Sama would follow Air Arabia's suit and introduce a low cost holidays concept, but he acknowledged the potential.

"I think it's something we will develop," he said. "[In terms of the inbound market], the Saudi SCT (Supreme Commission for Tourism) is investing heavily in growing Saudi Arabia as a leisure destination. We certainly think there is an opportunity to mesh into that strategy and play our part."

Cowen said one of the biggest challenges in establishing a LCC in Saudi Arabia was educating the market about baggage and refund policies that were stricter than those of regular carriers, bearing in mind the lean low cost model.

He said concerns over safety and overcoming the ‘low cost low quality' perception were also hurdles.

"The question of safety is a myth. That's the reason we sub-contract. We save money by outsourcing areas such as catering and engineering, he said. "We are tapping into other companies' economies of scale and expertise."

Cowen also noted that all four of Sama's planes were Boeings, which are "well-known and trusted" aircraft across the region.

Rather than view rival Saudi Arabia-based LCC start-up nas air as a rival, Cowen said the pair had a "united aim".

"We both see there is a joint endeavour to introduce the low cost concept to the Saudi market," he said.

"They are our competitors, but customers in Saudi Arabia want a change and they want a choice. We hope Sama can meet their needs."

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