Hybrid carriers Air Arabia and Flydubai have stepped up their battle on flights to and from Sarajevo as the two go head-to head in an attempt to win over the Bosnian market, from their respective hubs in Sharjah and Dubai. A further shake-up will come in November when another Gulf carrier - Qatar Airways - launches flights from Doha. With three airlines vying for similar customers, the competitive nature of the market has already had an impact on the carriers.
Air Arabia, which launched three weekly flights from Sharjah to Sarajevo last month has reduced its operations to two per week. Despite plans to operate six weekly services from July 1 throughout the summer, the airline now intends on maintaining those frequencies during the peak months of August and September. Furthermore, the carrier is now putting a greater emphasis on connecting flights, in a bid to attract transfer passengers on the route. Recently, the airline promoted its Sarajevo operations in India, noting that flights to and from the Bosnian capital connect to thirteen cities in the subcontinent. Despite the reduction in frequencies, Air Arabia is confident in its Sarajevo service. "Bosnia and Herzegovina is rapidly emerging as a must-visit destination for tourists seeking great culture and history alongside an incredible backdrop and outdoor activities. Sarajevo adds further strength to our broad network of destinations in Eastern Europe. It is a great all-year-round destination and we anticipate very healthy demand for the service", Air Arabia Group CEO, Adel Ali, says.
Flydubai has responded strongly to Air Arabia's entry onto the market. It will operate up to twelve weekly flights between its hub and Sarajevo this summer season, up from the initially planned seven weekly services. The airline will run two daily flights on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between July 7 and September 12. Flydubai introduced two weekly services to Sarajevo in December 2014. The city has since become its most served destination in the former Yugoslavia. "This is an important market for Flydubai. Demand for this route remains strong as passengers are able to travel to Dubai and beyond through its efficient aviation hub, offering links to 264 points around the world”, the airline told EX-YU Aviation News last year.
Qatar Airways has pushed back the launch of its flights from Doha to Sarajevo just several weeks after putting tickets on sale. The service, which was initially scheduled to commence on September 7, has been pushed back to November 2. The airline gave no reason for the delay, however flights will operate three times per week as originally planned. Bosnia and Herzegovina is becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar. Arab investors are building homes and hotels around Sarajevo and heavily promoting the destination to middle class families looking for cheaper alternatives to Western Europe, fuelling point to point travel from the Middle East to Sarajevo, particularly during the summer months. Whether there is room for three players vying for a similar customer base remains to be seen.