Carrier's from the Middle East have shown growing interest in launching services to Sarajevo with Kuwait Airways and Iran Air both considering flights to the Bosnian capital in 2017, while Qatar Airways is set to commence operations next year as well. Kuwait Airways told EX-YU Aviation News that it is mulling a number of new destinations for 2017, including Sarajevo, as part of its five-year transformation strategy. Bosnia and Herzegovina's Ambassador to Kuwait, Mehmed Halilović, said that in addition to Kuwait Airways, a privately-owned carrier, tipped to be Jazeera Airways, is also eyeing services to Sarajevo next year. The low cost Jazeera Airways, which is considered Kuwait's second national airline, recently announced plans to expand into Europe. Previously, Kuwait Airways operated seasonal services between its hub and the Bosnian capital in August and September of 2013. Flights ran twice per week with a 232-seat Airbus A300-600 aircraft via Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport.
Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina are considering the removal of visa restrictions and the establishment of a direct air link between their respective capital cities. The matter was discussed in Tehran last week by a high-ranking political, economic and cultural delegation headed by the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bakir Izetbegović, and Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani. Both sides have already taken steps for the service to materialise in 2017. Iranian officials said the establishment of direct flights between Tehran and Sarajevo would help promote tourism and boost economic and cultural cooperation. Further talks on the matter are expected to take place in Sarajevo next month.
Qatar Airways, which was to introduce flights from Doha to Sarajevo in October, has pushed back its service launch due to an ongoing fleet shortage. A new date is yet to be set, however, an airline spokesperson told EX-YU Aviation News that the route has priority and will be launched "as soon as possible". The carrier has reiterated it is not backing away from the new service and the delay is purely a result of operational circumstances. This summer saw increased competition among Gulf carriers vying for the Bosnian market with Air Arabia launching flights between Sharjah and Sarajevo to rival Flydubai. Ultimately, the Dubai-based carrier proved victorious with Air Arabia downgrading its Sarajevo operations to summer seasonal flights. However it has vowed to return to the Bosnian capital from March 16, 2017.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 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. The number of visitors from the United Arab Emirates surged to 13.000 in the first seven months of this year from 7.265 last year, according to hotel data from the Sarajevo Tourist Board. In 2010, there were only 65 visitors from the UAE. Bosnia does not have a national tourism authority, as a result, unofficial estimates put the total number of Arab tourists at between 50.000 and 60.000 a year, with about a quarter buying property in the country.