Gulf Air's ambitions are being helped by the swanky terminal at Bahrain International Airport. It helps with capturing higher corporate and millennial traveler demand. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Gulf Air will remain hyper-focused on expanding its fleet and adding network capacities, according to its outgoing CEO.

Another key focus for the airline – as competition gets even more intense among Gulf airlines – is to improve inflight experiences. And help Bahrain meet its target of 14.1 million tourists by 2026.

Once described as a 'grand lady' of the Arabian skies, Gulf Air had to move away from the passenger volume-driven approach to compete against regional heavyweights Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

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Instead, Gulf Air aims to achieve the goals by developing into a 'boutique luxury product' targeting corporate and millennial travelers, according to Capt. Waleed AbdulHameed Alalawi, who is stepping down as CEO month-end.

Plus, the Bahrain International Airport’s new passenger terminal - the country's largest infrastructure project to date – has ‘equipped' the airline to operate at maximum capacity, said Alalwai.

The aviation veteran spearheaded the airline through the COVID-19 pandemic after launching his career with Gulf Air as a pilot in 1980.

“We have started to make great strides towards augmenting both its regional base and its position within the global aviation market” - says Capt. Waleed AbdulHameed Alalawi

New fleet

"We want to portray the airline as a solid national asset that serves the Kingdom of Bahrain and yet caters to an international audience," said Alalawi.

Like other airlines, Gulf Air is waiting for aircraft to join the fleet to meet its growth plan. "We have started to make great strides towards augmenting both its regional base and its position within the global aviation market," said Alalwai.

Currently, Gulf Air has 39 aircraft, which consists of 8 A320ceo, 4 A321ceo, 10 B787-9 Boeing Dreamliners, 6 A320neo, 8 A321neo and 3 A321neo HD aircrafts. The airline took delivery of its 10th Airbus A321neo aircraft in November last.

Network expansion

Gulf Air's focus is to explore new opportunities for the airline's portfolio, particularly destinations in the Far East. The airline will extend its operations into China's Guangzhou and Shanghai this month.

"China is one of the world's fastest-growing economies and a global tourism market,” the CEO said. “It is key to our strategy of calibrated network growth. These flights will offer passengers greater choice and flexible travel experiences and create new pipelines for trade, tourism and collaboration, benefitting both nations.

"The new routes will allow us to strengthen Gulf Air's global network and connect Bahrain with key global destinations under Bahrain's National Economic Recovery Plan."

The airline operates scheduled flights from its hub at Bahrain International Airport to over 40 cities in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and the Far East. During H1-2023, Gulf Air welcomed 2.8 million passengers, up 39.7 per cent over 2.01 million in 2022.

The airport received 4.09 million passengers, marking a 43.2 per cent growth from last year's 2.86 million.

Has the 'boutique' model helped?

Alalwai insists that the 'boutique business model' has helped the airline shine amongst its competitors.

"We are more product and customer-experience-focused, which gives us a competitive advantage,” he added. “It also translates into our fleet modernization strategy, the Falcon Gold class offering, upgraded economy class experience, new destinations and more."

Gulf Air is now quite focused on creating a product that will provide travel opportunities targeting corporate and millennial travelers.

Bahrain International Airport's new terminal (with a capacity of 14 million passengers annually) also operates a boutique model. "The design means passengers can pass through the Arrival and Departure areas faster than any other airport in the region, giving them more time to enjoy the amenities on offer," the CEO added.

"The automation streamlines the most time-consuming procedures, reducing waiting times and giving passengers a smooth experience," said Alalwai.

Plans are in place to strengthen staff strength, specifically within the senior management ranks, to fuel Bahrain's aviation sector growth.