Dubai Airports’ CEO, Paul Griffiths, has said that he expects to see a “rapid rebound” in passenger traffic at one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs once travel restrictions in Emirates airline’s key markets are eased.
In just three days in March, Dubai International Airport (DXB) went from being the world’s busiest airport, operating 1,100 flights and processing 280,000 passengers per day to just 17 daily flights.
Speaking at the AI Everything Summer Conference in Dubai on Thursday, Griffiths said that in May alone, DXB ushered 44,000 passenger through the airport, the same number as it would normally experience in four hours.
“The dramatic impact on the airport has been quite astonishing,” he said. “The most important thing we’ve got to do is reassure everyone that Dubai is an incredibly safe and great place to be.”
“The impact on the industry has been absolutely enormous. But thanks to the very quick decisions made by the government [and] the decisive leadership…I think we’re going to have a very rapid rebound as and when the world opens up.”
Dubai, which is Emirates airline’s hub, is largely reliant on waiting for the rest of the world to ease travel restrictions before it starts to see traffic normalising. As a long-haul airline with no domestic routes, Emirates will have to wait until its markets reopen before it can start to generate meaningful revenues.
But Emirates currently is not focused on turnover, according to the group’s divisional senior VP for corporate communications, marketing and brand, Boutros Boutros.
“Emirates is not looking at this stage at making money, we are looking at providing a service,” he said. “One of Emirates’ main missions is to service Dubai and the UAE and to keep it connected. We are flying to 50 destinations although not at the same frequencies as before. We are trying to provide the service at a minimum cost on us and a minimum cost on passengers.”
Griffiths is confident that people around the world will want to resume long-haul travel once lockdowns are lifted.
“I think while we’re in the middle of the eye of the storm it’s very easy to be quite depressed about things but actually I think that future, particularly for Dubai… with its focus on technology, its solid leadership and its compliant behaviour… I think all of those things have given us an excellent platform to spring into the future.”
Addressing the future of airport design, Griffiths said he believes that generally designs are “incredibly old fashioned and very legacy”, whereas what people really want is more personal experiences and better value for money.
The lasting impact of Covid-19 on passenger sentiment, he said, would be a demand for more assurance about the quality and safety of the product.
“I think airports in the future, will actually be much more personal experiences. And we will have to invest a huge amount of money in taking a lot of the legacy systems that exist in airports for the convenience of the airport operator, not for the convenience of the customer, and take those off-site where they can be done in homes and offices so you don’t have to go to the airport except to get onto your plane,” Griffiths said.
“That will change in the future and I believe what we’ve been through over the last few months will accelerate that change. And I think rather than have operators sitting back and going back to the way they were, I think this is a great opportunity to transform the customer experience.”
Recalling the immediate onset of travel restrictions, Griffiths said the first impact was on the airport’s liquidity and attempting to “stop the flow of cash out of the door”.
“We had to take some very heavy steps to stop that happening and then manage through a period of very difficult conditions, unprecedented conditions and manage quite an austere operation.
“But what we must all remember is that this situation will pass and the opportunity to be bright again and to do all the ambitious things that Dubai has been famous for for decades, those opportunities will emerge.
“We have to maintain our capability and in fact increase our capability through the pandemic so that when we emerge the other end we’ve got a better product, a stronger reputation, a much better value for money proposition and every single person in the entire sector, from government, private sector, hospitality, tourism, is playing their part in putting Dubai on the map as a great opportunity to come and experience.”