InsiderBusiness"You have an amazing destination in Cyprus," Wizz Air's president tells Phileleftheros

“You have an amazing destination in Cyprus,” Wizz Air’s president tells Phileleftheros

Last week, Wizz Air announced that it is adding two aircraft to its Larnaca base, therefore expanding its capacity and routes. In an interview with Phileleftheros, Wizz Air’s president, Robert Carey, says that the company is extremely satisfied with its choice to set up a base in Cyprus. Furthermore, he talks about the effort to attract visitors from Saudi Arabia, as well as about Cyprus’ potential to become a year-round destination.

Interview with Adamos Adamou.

Your decision to make Cyprus your base in 2020 came as a surprise to a lot of people, as it was taken during a pandemic. What led you to take this decision and how would you evaluate it in hindsight, given the fact that earlier this week you announced the allocation of two more aircraft to the Larnaca base?

While many airlines shrank during the pandemic, we saw it as an opportunity to grow. We saw the potential in a market like Cyprus, where you have a very attractive destination, with lots of potential for further growth. Thanks to the partnership with the Minister of Transport, Ministry of Tourism and Hermes Airports, they provided support that made the decision clear for us to enter. Since then, the market has continued to do well and has rebounded nicely post-COVID. Demand for Cyprus was high this summer. This was combined with the latest incentive package and support from the Minister of Transport, Ministry of Tourism and Hermes, and this is why we are now investing the two additional aircraft into Larnaca, doubling our capacity, opening up new routes and increasing frequencies on others. Looking back, we are very happy with the decision to open our base here.

In the past few years, Cyprus has diversified its tourist market, attracting tourists from other countries, especially from Europe. What do you think has contributed to this and how could Cyprus’ tourist market further expand towards Asia or the USA?  

I think this is largely due to the diversification in tourism strategy you have followed. I think the plan and strategy laid out by the Minister of Tourism were clear and gave everyone direction. Since then, all parties have executed against it well, delivering now a “product” that is attractive on many different dimensions, with world-class facilities, that attracts people from all over. Going forward, I think you can definitely expand into new markets, especially considering the great location of Cyprus, being not too far from much of the world and with the great Mediterranean climate. In addition to Asia or the US, I would focus quite a lot on some nearer countries too – such as in the Middle East, as similar to Europe, it is a much shorter flight and much easier to attract new tourists.

What do you think makes Cyprus attractive and what improvements can be made in the near future, to make Cyprus a year-round destination?

You have an amazing destination in Cyprus – being in the Mediterranean, with a fantastic climate. In addition, you have the cultural heritage of the island, combined with the new modern hotels and resorts that will attract different clients. Plus, you have started to diversify into many different types of activities that attract more types of tourists. We can see this in our passenger numbers, where we continue to see the season extending – which is great for us, as we are a year-round airline, and don’t like to vary too much from season to season. Going forward, I would continue investing in the types of activities that will drive more year volume, such as golf. This gives people more of a reason to come than the great beaches!

You recently announced a major expansion to Saudi Arabia, with Cyprus seemingly being part of this endeavour. Do you see Cyprus attracting tourists from this market?

Absolutely. We have seen a really great response from Saudis to the Wizz Air product since launching our initial flights. We expect Cyprus to be part of this, as the Saudi population is a young, dynamic group that likes to travel around and explore. There is still a lot of potential for stimulation of new volume coming from Saudi, and we think Cyprus offers a lot of characteristics that will be attractive. We want to give Saudis this chance to come and explore parts of Europe.

I think also important to flag that we think it is a two-way market – we think there are growing business links between the two countries, that will bring many Cypriots to travel to Saudi. In addition, Saudi is investing a lot of money to expand its tourism infrastructure, as it looks to grow the space – so we expect to carry tourists in the other direction as well.

Following the pandemic, the war caused all flights from Ukraine and Russia to Europe to be cancelled until further notice. Do you think that dealing with crises is now part of your job? Did these crises create new opportunities?

As you point out, it’s been a challenging few years. There was the pandemic, then the war, then infrastructure challenges in Europe, and now the economic challenges. But this is not necessarily that new to the airline industry. We regularly deal with a major downturn every 7 years or so, but have smaller crises in the interim periods as well; be it production issues from Airbus or Boeing, ash clouds – you name it. So from my point of view, crises, and reacting to them, have always been a part of my job. We might be having a few more in this period than would be normal, but they have always been a part.

All that said, you’re right – every crisis creates opportunities. As I said earlier, the pandemic is a great example. We had the chance to come into a market, like Cyprus, that historically we couldn’t get the support to do. And we were lucky we could do that in a number of other markets as well, and thanks to our low-cost position, we expanded our footprint much faster than would have been possible normally to Cyprus, Italy, Albania, the UK and the UAE.

How do you see the current levels of inflation and ongoing energy crisis affecting travel in the coming months, considering that this past summer, and despite the adversity, Europe saw an unprecedentedly high demand for travel?  

While this is another challenge, this is a challenge the airline industry and consumers have seen many times before – we know a bit more about what happens here. While this is going to create challenging economic times, customers are very clear – they choose value even more in these periods. Rather than paying for the higher fares of legacy airlines, they increasingly go for low-cost options. This buy-down effect puts pressure on more expensive legacy carriers, which ultimately means they reduce capacity (like you are seeing this winter – all Legacies are basically flying about 75-80% of their capacity, whereas we are growing at 35% and Ryanair at 10%). When the capacity is reduced, this restores the equilibrium of capacity and demand. So ultimately, while travel demand may come down some, the low-cost airlines will continue to be the winners in this environment and do well.

Read more:

WizzAir announces new routes, fleet expansion in Larnaca aiport

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