Several months ahead of the introduction flights to the former Yugoslavia, the world's largest international airline, Emirates, has begun preparations for its new Zagreb service. Speaking to EX-YU Aviation News, the airline's Area Manager for Austria, Slovakia, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina, Martin Gross, said. "The route was announced and went on sale less than one month ago, so at this stage it is far too early to make comment on bookings and trends. We are still working on our strategy for the market, but have noticed already a keen interest from travellers from the Far East". Accordingly, the airline has offered competitive fares out of Zagreb to markets such as China, South Korea and Japan during the high season, rivalling both Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines for the same passenger base. In the last year, an estimated 330.000 passengers flew between Zagreb and markets across the Middle East, Asia and Australasia with single direction flows of around 30.000 from Zagreb to the Gulf nations, 45.000 to Far East Asia and over 50.000 to the Middle East.
The airline still faces the challenge of filling up a large number of premium seats in first and business class outside of the busy summer months on its 364-seat Boeing 777-300 aircraft. However, Emirates anticipates attracting passengers from neighbouring Slovenia and even the southern regions of Hungary and Austria. The Croatian Minister for Tourism, Gari Cappelli, is confident the new flights will sell well, "We are extremely delighted that Emirates, the world's largest airline, has announced daily flights between Dubai and Zagreb. This is an interesting market for us with great potential. Over eighty destinations will be made available via Dubai to markets we are focusing on at the moment. This will increase the number of visitors coming to Croatia. These are travellers who prefer high-end accommodation such as five or four star hotels, with greater spending power". Abi Shalabi, a prominent hotelier and businessmen in Croatia, noted, "Emirates has recognised Croatia as an important tourist destination. This is a major opportunity for the country to attract investors from Dubai. As soon as one comes, the rest will follow. Emirates has analysed the market for a long time and they have decided that it's time to invest in Croatia".
More destinations in the former Yugoslavia could be served by Emirates over the next five years with the carrier considering a major deviation from its existing business model, as it looks to order narrow-body aircraft. The company’s President, Tim Clark, told CNN he has three different proposals in front of him: a narrow-body aircraft order, a mixed order for some number of narrow-body and twin-aisle aircraft, and a pure wide-body aircraft order. No decision will be made within the next eighteen months, Mr Clark said. The carrier currently operates a fleet of Airbus A380 and B777 aircraft. Speculation has been growing that Emirates will launch its second destination in the former Yugoslavia later this year. Sources from its immediate competitors indicate that flights to Belgrade could be introduced in the fourth quarter of this year to replace Flydubai on the route although the airline itself has not commented on these claims. Emirates is seeking to eke out new routes as lower oil prices weigh on travel in the Gulf and stuttering economies hurt global demand. With most first-tier cities within an eight-hour flying radius already connected to Dubai, the Emirati carrier approached both Zagreb and Belgrade airports in 2015 to negotiate future flights.