Changing profile, stronger air-connectivity working well for Ethiopia: Tadesse Tilahun

Banking on the changing profile of the Indian outbound, supplemented by a young fleet of modern aircrafts, Ethiopia is pulling out all stops to attract a larger share of the Indian outbound. Having put in motion the acquisition of wide-bodied, twin-engine aircrafts and opening of new routes from south India, in not too distant future, Ethiopian Airlines is working in tandem with the tourism body to achieve this target. We bring you an exclusive and exhaustive interview with Tadesse Tilahun who sheds light on the future course of action for the leading African airline in the Indian market.

Tadesse Tilahun Ethiopian Airlines
Tadesse Tilahun
Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopia has a lot going for itself, in terms of tourism products. Most of them are untouched and pristine. Share with us some key products that define the country’s tourism landscape.

Rightly said, Ethiopia, the land of origins has remained untouched and unexplored in a sense and that is the essence of its attraction.  From natural waterfalls, lakes, scenic beauty, mountain ranges and volatile volcanos, it offers travellers a diversity ranging from wild life, fauna and adventure sport.  It is the cradle of mankind, having the first human fossils and historical sites like the Lalibella Rock-Hewn Churches which have become UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The nature of Indian outbound has changed in a profound manner, with more and more Indians looking at sampling unique experiences. Therein lies a huge opportunity for Ethiopian tourism. How are you tapping it? How is the outreach in the Indian market happening?

Indians by nature are now ready for change.  The old attractions of shopping expeditions to the Middle and Far East have shifted gear and travellers wants to seek unexplored and newer shores.  Ethiopian as an airline has identified this paradigm shift and today Ethiopian Holidays is geared to handle this niche market. We are working with prominent tour operators to promote Ethiopia as destination and we are very optimistic that it will succeed.

What is the nature of Indian outbound and what is driving traffic to Ethiopia? How big is the FITs (foreign individual traveller) component and how is it panning out? Is the traffic dominantly leisure in nature?

Curiosity about newer destinations and yearning to be one of the first to visit fresh terrain attracts the Indian traveller, by and large.  We have received several enquiries about using Ethiopia as a stop-over point for a couple of days enroute to other parts of Africa and even Europe and USA. By and large it is a leisure market that has been contacting us but there are some business travellers who have taken a business-cum-leisure trip. There is quite a large number of FITs as well as groups.

Where does India stand in the pecking order, in terms of being a source market? What are your most important international markets vis-à-vis footfalls and revenue? What percentage of your total annual footfalls comes from the African continent?

Travel from India to all parts of Africa via Addis Ababa is the order of the day.  Although we focus on travel to all parts of Africa being the only airline with so many flights to and from Africa, we see a huge interest of travel to other International destinations like USA, Canada etc. India is one of the major markets in Ethiopian Network. China, USA and Dubai are also major markets for Ethiopian.

How is the online outreach happening? How critical are OTAs to your overall marketing plans?

Online bookings are booming and OTAs play a very important role in our marketing plans. Apart from Airline’s online facility of “Click and Fly”, leading OTA’s are playing major role as our distribution channel and the future is “Online”.

Share with us the current routes Ethiopian Airlines is operating out of India. Ethiopian Airlines has been in the Indian market for a very long time. How has the market evolved? What are some changes that one sees in the Indian market, in the last few years?

In the last 45 years of our operations to and from India, we are proud to say that ET has double daily passenger flights both from Mumbai and Delhi. Freighter flights operate from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and, recently, Ahmedabad.

Ethiopian Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance. How has the umbrella helped you in furthering your outreach? How much of your traffic is non-stop, self-driven and what percentage of it is contributed by the virtue of being a part of the Star Alliance?

Being a member of Star Alliance has its advantage and we are keen on exploiting all avenues to make it work seamlessly.  The alliance, like any other members, has helped in offering seamless connection across the world. It has dual benefit for the members as well as travelling public. Majority of our traffic is non-stop as we operate direct flights to most of our destinations. Quite significant number of passengers is also exchanged with the Star alliance member carriers too.

What is the current fleet strength and what are the expansion plans? We understand that a substantial number of wide-bodied, twin-engine aircrafts are expected to join the fleet. How will it impact the airline network?

We are aggressively investing on fleet expansion and currently the airline can rightly boast of having the youngest fleet of average five years in the Industry.  We are constantly upgrading and buying newer aircrafts from the B-787, B-777 to the recent acquisition of A-350, ET endeavors to possess a modern and well-maintained fleet. In parallel, we are opening three to four new destinations every IATA season and expanding our network.

What is the profile of the Indian outbound and how has been the business like in 2016? Are there any new routes from any other Indian cities in the offing?

Africa has elicited a lot of interest to the Indian traveller in the recent past and our flights to Kenya, South Africa and now Victoria Falls are doing very well.  Flying is our business and business is good!!!  We are working on new routes from South India in the not too distant future. We are launching our fifth destination Kaduna in Nigeria starting from coming August and Jakarta, Indonesia will follow in October.

Ethiopian Airlines services a number of routes within the African continent. How is through traffic from India like? Within the continent, are there any particular destinations that attract larger numbers of through traffic from India than others? Please share.

We have good market share of the South African market from Mumbai and recently it was recorded that more than 96,000 Indians travelled to South Africa in one year.  Since we fly to all parts of Africa there will be no looking back now that the Indian traveller is curious about the “dark” Continent!!!!!

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