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Dubai: The rise of the aviation sector in Saudi Arabia will be a major catalyst for the growth of the tourism sector in the GCC countries as a whole. So said Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, in an interview with Katie Jensen, presenter of Frankly Speaking, the Dubai talk show.Arab News Which features interviews with top decision makers and business leaders.

His comments come on the heels of the giant Saudi city of Neom announcing earlier this month the launch of the world’s first commercial flights from Neom Bay Airport at the end of June, with Dubai being the first destination and London “soon” to follow.

Mr. Griffiths, who played a key role in transforming Dubai Airport into the world’s busiest in terms of international passenger numbers, said: “I think a lot of people would expect me to say that Saudi Arabia is going to be a competitor. In fact, the Saudi market is very important to Dubai. . »

It is our third largest market, and it is very important that we establish more and more air links. This market has witnessed a massive expansion in recent years. The fact that Saudi Arabia is developing its tourism industry is good for Dubai. »

Similar views were expressed at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

“The high tide lifts all boats. Regional integration is more important for smaller economies, but it is very important for those around us, than it is for Saudi Arabia (…). So I think improving the Kingdom’s economic and competitive performance enhances its competitiveness,” said Saudi Investment Minister Khalid. Al-Falih at the “Saudi Perspectives” Roundtable It enables businesses, corporations and governments in these countries to integrate into Saudi Arabia’s broader global economy.

Another speaker at the same roundtable, Haifa bint Mohammed Al Saud, Deputy Minister of Strategy and Executive Affairs, said: “The region as a whole is a hub, so once you arrive in the region, it becomes more attractive to visit different destinations. .Therefore, the competition is completely in our favor.”

Mr. Griffiths shares this view. “If you look at more established tourist destinations like Europe and the United States, it’s rare for people to go to one city and then go home,” he notes.

“Having more travel options and more cities to visit in the Middle East, including cities in Saudi Arabia, will be very beneficial for all GCC countries because people will be able to come to Dubai and travel to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other cities in the region And it does what many tourists do in Europe.”

You rarely go to London on your own; You want to visit Paris, Madrid and Rome. So I think it would be very good for the area to have an increased number of tourist options.”

Mr. Griffiths is the Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Airports and has held this position for more than 15 years. Privately opened Terminal 3 as well as Dubai’s second airport, Dubai World Central (DWC).

The airport recently released its figures showing that more than 3.6 million passengers passed through it in the first quarter of this year, the busiest period since the start of 2020.

It also expects the airport to return to its pre-pandemic level in 2024, a year earlier than expected. So, with such strong growth, is it time for an IPO?

Mr. Griffiths responds cautiously, saying that Dubai Airports “would be an attractive candidate for an initial public offering,” and that its numbers and “balance sheet, even during a pandemic, would support such a move.”

He says he is optimistic that “that decision can be made sometime in the near future”, but adds that the decision is ultimately up to the Dubai government.

This year, the Dubai government plans to list ten government entities on the Dubai Financial Market. The local Water and Electricity Company (DEWA) completed the world’s second largest public offering earlier this year. It is the first listing of its kind in the region and the largest domestically since the record-breaking IPO of Saudi oil giant Aramco in 2019.

It is rumored that Dubai Toll Services Company Salik and Empower Air Conditioning will be next to go public. Emirates also raised the possibility of listing on the Dubai Financial Market. The CEO of the Dubai-based airline, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, said: CNBC I’m sure Emirates will be in the market one day. »

At an aviation summit in Manchester in April, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark said he had to turn off his phones because all the bankers in the world were “knocking on our door saying ‘we have investors who want to give you money’.”

According to Mr. Griffiths, this is “a sign of the maturity of many cities in the region, because we are now at a point where we have an excellent track record of growth, good performance, good financial controls and a solid strategy (…) all of which are good for an IPO.”

While he is optimistic about the future of the aviation sector and Dubai in particular, Griffiths acknowledges that some global geopolitical and economic concerns remain. While Emirates represents 60-70% of total passenger traffic at Dubai airports, “The weakness in some transport markets, particularly in Asia, especially China, is worrisome, but we have regained about 50% of the transport markets, and I expect it to improve over the few months.” coming.”

He says high fuel prices have been an “obvious concern”, but that the UAE’s position is “very strong at the moment.”

“They are benefiting quite a bit from a strong recovery in many markets, especially in the West. I don’t think we should worry about a recovery over the next few months. There will probably be some economic indicators, inflation globally, and by the end of the year things might be different. However, the recovery and travel at the moment are very refreshing, and I see no signs of weakening in the near future.”

Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest international airport, and 58.3 million people are expected to pass through its buildings this year. However, it is currently operating with one runway due to the north runway renovations. As a result, around 1,000 flights per week will be affected, most of which are redirected to Dubai’s other airport, DWC. And Griffiths stresses that while it is “unlikely” the track will open earlier than planned, it will “certainly” open on June 22 “as planned”.

He states that most of the renovations are technical, not “something passengers will notice,” but says that “landings could be smoother on a newly renovated runway.” »

According to Mr. Griffiths, the decision to redirect low-cost airlines to DWC was deliberately not taken to satisfy wealthy Emirates customers, adding that “a few” Emirates flights were sent to DWC.

“In fact, most of them stayed at Dubai International Airport,” he says. Emirates has responded to this situation by reducing the number of services. »

Although the renovation is going “very well so far”, according to Mr. Griffiths, he pointed to another lingering issue facing the airport, namely cybersecurity. This is “a huge problem at the moment and the number of potential malicious attacks is increasing almost daily.”

“If you look, for example, at the number of malicious emails – and traffic that has nothing to do with business – it went up by 70%. So that’s a significant portion of the total traffic that isn’t made up of emails that are requested or related to running the airport. “

When asked if the threat of cyber security and cyber-attacks is greater than the threat of physical attacks, such as the Houthi drone attack on Abu Dhabi airport earlier this year, he replied that the airport cannot afford “complacency”, adding that this is the reason for Dubai. Airports “continually invest in training and technology to counter the evolving threat.”

According to Griffiths, Dubai Airports is also investing heavily in sustainable initiatives, using solar panels to generate electricity and keeping vehicles cool in parking lots, banning single-use plastics and using electric or hybrid vehicles for its ground fleet.

He believes this is important because “consumers will not want to frequent an airport or airline that does not take sustainability seriously.”

Dubai Airports is also cooperating with Emirates Airlines to pilot the use of sustainable aviation fuel in the third quarter of this year. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that SAF can reduce in-flight carbon emissions by about 80%, but many airlines are reluctant to launch test flights due to their prohibitive cost.

Mr. Griffiths notes that the potential for sustainable aviation fuel development is hampered by supply distribution issues. According to him, unless airports around the world can provide SAF for planes once they land, airlines will have to carry fuel with them from the original, which “removes a lot of the benefits.”

The solution, he explains, is to inject SAF into the aircraft as close to the manufacturing source as possible, and to make sure “some form of subsidy is put in place, so that we can absorb the cost of producing sustainable aviation fuel throughout the jet fuel supply chain, so that no airline suffers from The need to be more environmentally friendly than others.”

“We share all the costs and reap all the rewards,” he says.

He notes that consumers may have to pay more for sustainable options, and explains that these higher fuel costs “can translate into small increases in ticket prices, but sustainability has to happen and we have to pay for it” one way or another. . »

Looking ahead, Griffiths says he is very “positive” about the outlook for the next year and “despite the potential turmoil in the economy, political events and the post-Covid recovery,” he is “very optimistic about Dubai’s aviation sector.”

He considers the city’s tourism and hotel infrastructure to be among the “best in the world”, indicating that demand for Dubai has risen dramatically.

“We exceeded visitor arrivals before the pandemic by 111% at the end of last year, and currently, we are around 100%,” he notes, before continuing: “These are very strong numbers.”

This text is a translation of an article published on Arabnews.com

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