Discussing Qatar Airways Strategy, and How to Pronounce Its Name (Across the Aisle, Part One)

I had the chance to speak with Qatar Across the Aisle from Qatar AirwaysAirways’ Tony Hughes recently and had a fascinating conversation. Tony is the Senior VP for the Americas, so he runs the show here in the western hemisphere.

I started with most basic question – how do you pronounce the name of the airline (and country)? Then we dove into a wide-ranging discussion on performance of US markets, codesharing, and competition with other airlines. I’ve split it up into two parts. Today we talk about Qatar itself along with the airlines from states in the Emirates. Unless something earth-shattering happens tomorrow, I’ll run part two then.

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Cranky: Let me ask the one question that everyone wants to know. How do you pronounce the name of the company and the country?
Tony Hughes, Senior VP Americas: Well you know you’re absolutely right. When we started in the States, we ran a series of adverts saying how do you pronounce Q-a-t-a-r? Now, I’m English so we would say ka-TAR. In the States, they say, KA-ter. In other words, I don’t really have a good answer.

Cranky: So really, call it whatever we want as long as we buy a ticket?
Tony: Exactly! One of the interesting things for us is obviously Qatar as a country is not particularly well-known by the general public whereas Dubai is a destination. So we have that side – not only do we have to get the name over, we also have to get the country over.

Cranky: I think for a lot of people, when they think of Qatar, it’s instantly tied in with some negative thoughts, even if there isn’t as much of that in the country, it’s the region in general.
Tony: Yeah, there is an element of that. Once people actually know that the US Central Command is based in Qatar and we have six American university campuses in Doha . . . but of course, how do you get that message over? The reality is, not belittling the issues, if you actually go to Qatar walking around the streets you’re safer than in Washington. But I understand what you’re saying.

Cranky: Yeah, general perception.

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Tony: I think, as you know, we are one of 5 or 6 airlines that are rated five star by Skytrax. We’re an international world class airline, not just an Arab carrier.

Cranky: Yeah, although, you may not just be another air carrier, but you are competing with other airlines that have that same reputation, Emirates and Etihad.
Tony: They’re 4 star.

Cranky: Oh yeah? Well, they still have that reputation for Americans.
Tony: And I would not sit here and say they’re not good.

Cranky: And that’s where all the growth is coming, in that region.
Tony: I think two reasons. One is the geographical location. The age of long haul jets has literally made that part of the world the crossroads between East, West, North, South. And secondly, the capital investment that’s been available there is quite spectacular.

Cranky: In Qatar, it’s obviously not growing as the same extent as Dubai has been, right?
Tony: No. I mean, in world terms it’s exceptional. It is growing, has an area full of splendid modern office buildings going up. It has its own floating island, the Pearl. There is a lot of investment but far more conservative than Dubai.

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Cranky: Let’s talk more about the US market since that’s your domain. You have what, Houston, New York, and Washington?
Tony: Yeah, daily 777s from each destination.

Cranky: When you look at the US market, are you still looking to expand? Or are you looking to solidify your position?
Tony: Yes and yes. The company has quite clearly stated expansion plans and aircraft orders. Some orders are to replace existing aircraft because it’s the company’s objective to have one of the most modern fleets in the world, and the rest are to expand. We don’t have any immediate plans to bring another service to the States. I’m sure at some stage we will, but we’re reviewing all the time.

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Tomorrow, I’ll have part two of the interview. We’ll talk about codesharing and competition.


29 Responses to Discussing Qatar Airways Strategy, and How to Pronounce Its Name (Across the Aisle, Part One)

  1. tharanga says:

    How is it properly pronounced in Arabic, then?

    For an airline that serves only three places in North America, is it unusual that IAD is one of them? I sort of think so, but I don’t know. Is there that much government traffic, or is there some other draw?

    • Brian says:

      Austrian only flies to four North American destinations and IAD is one of them. Of course, that’s not statistics…

    • why do you think that about IAD? after JFK/EWR, IAD is the busiest transatlantic airport on the east coast, ahead of ATL, MIA, PHL, etc. even using all international totals, IAD ranks 5th on the east coast after JFK, EWR, MIA and ATL, the latter two inflated by having much more latin american service than exists at IAD. finally, as others have pointed out, Qatar does code share w/ UA at IAD.

    • CF says:

      Looking at Dulles, JFK, and Houston, the last one is the one that would stand out the most for me. Of course, it’s the oil and gas connection there. But for Dulles, it’s a no-brainer with the US central command being in Qatar. Lots of traffic going back and forth.

      • Trent880 says:

        IAD is the biggest at about 30PDEW. IAH/JFK are about half that. ORD is about a third of IAH/JFK. There really is close to zero DOH market; QR is one of the sillier vanity projects in the Middle East.

  2. Sanjeev M says:

    Government traffic is not all of it.

    There is some sort of mileage arrangement (codeshare?) with United so some connecting feed. Also, don’t underestimate the connecting traffic to Middle East and Asia, where Qatar saves flight time and provides a solid product compared to Lufthansa or British Airways.

  3. felipe says:

    Good interview,
    It is hard to believe how in the present there is a leats three or four Middle East airlines with a great reputation in the market with competitive prices, great service and providing a link between West to East without making a connection in Europe.
    Also the traffic they may generate from Asia to Europe or Americas it is really important.

  4. Robert says:

    My daughter worked in Doha for three years (for one of the American universities). The local pronunciation rhymes with “clutter”.

    Any my two flights on Qatar Air were outstanding.

  5. Kind of rude to interview someone about their company and country by asking them how to pronounce their name.

    One of the aviation magazines I read gave a review of their service and were surprised that a short haul segment had excellent service but a long haul to Asia was aweful.

    If it wasn’t for the oil industry (Houston) or the tie up with United (Washington) would they even be flying to the USA just for New York alone? They don’t have the beyond reach of Emirates, or the P.R. of Dubai so besides oil and United, what does Qatar have to offer the world?

    • Oliver says:

      I thought the whole “how the heck do you pronounce your country?” thong a bit of a space and time waster as I (a) knew it and (b) could have easily looked it up on wikipedia or some other online resource.

      Hopefully the second part is a bit more insightful. :)

  6. A says:

    … it’s the company’s objective to have one of the most modern fleets in the world…

    Does this sell tickets? Sure, I can see wanting fuel efficiency and us airline dorks probably would pay extra to fly on a brand new aircraft type, but overall does having a new fleet offset the acquisition costs of the aircraft? Still remember back to my tour of an aircraft maintenance base. Was told that if you maintained your car like they did aircraft you’d only drive one vehicle your entire life. I believe it when I see those ex-NWA DC-9’s still plying the skyies. So long as the cabin is current most people wouldn’t be the wiser to the age of their aircraft they are on.

    • CF says:

      That’s the age-old question for sure. Some people think modern fleets matter while others don’t. For Qatar which doesn’t have an old fleet that work with, a new fleet makes more sense. But if you have an existing fleet, then it can often be easier to just keep it running (like Delta’s DC9s). Continental is the worst offender in the US I think. That airline loves to crow about having a new fleet.

  7. SEAN says:

    I Don’t have a problem with asking about the correct pernounciation if it benefits the reader.

    I’m surprised they don’t serve ORD for better connections to the west coast. IAD, IAH & JFK I totally understand though.

    • tharanga says:

      I also think it was appropriate to ask, as a benefit to the reader. I’m just surprised a straight answer was not given. Forget what Americans or Brits say, I’d like to give respect to the local pronunciation. Thank you to Robert, as his input sounds right to me.

      Anyway, I’d rather like to try out their 5-star service, but I’ve found that they charge something of a premium for it. Maybe it was just the dates and destinations I was looking at. What of others? Are their fares competitive, or is there a premium?

      • FBKSan says:

        Last year, at least, the fares to the ME in Business were competitive, and at times even lower than other options (Emirates, United, etc.) I’ve only flow Qatar short-haul, but it was an impressive flight. Their premium facilities in Doha are excellent, too.

      • Arcanum says:

        I disagree. Most countries have a distinct name and/or pronunciation in English which differs from the local term. When’s the last time you heard an English speaker refer to Germany as Deutschland or Japan as Nihon?

        This is not an English bias either. Other languages do the same thing, which is why the French term for the U.S. is “les États-Unis”. Even names such as Canada which have a fairly consistent written form will differ in pronunciation between languages.

        • tharanga says:

          Granted, but in this case, the English name is the same thing, and not something totally different, as with Deutschland or Etats-Unis or Estados Unidos. And there isn’t a long-standing tradition in English of pronouncing it in an Anglicized way, like Moscow, Paris, Rome, Florence. In such a case, my personal preference is to defer to the local language, to the extent an Anglo tongue can handle it.

      • CF says:

        Well, wouldn’t you expect a premium to be charged for a premium service? I don’t know if there’s a premium or not, but I would expect there to be one.

  8. Arcanum says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s incorrect to call Qatar one of “the Emirates”. Although Qatar is ruled by an Emir and is thus technically an emirate, it is an independent country.

    The term “the Emirates” usually refers to the United Arab Emirates, a neighbouring country, of which Dubai and Abu Dhabi are effectively states or provinces.

    • tharanga says:

      That brings up a historical curiosity: when the UAE was founded, there was some attempt to include Qatar and Bahrain, but it fell through and those two went their separate ways.

    • Benji says:

      Aww, ya beat me to the question. But I agree, I think the interviewee seems to imply that Dubai is part of Qatar, when really DXB is a separate flight out of DOH…

    • CF says:

      Fine. I’ve removed the word “other” so that will hopefully make you all happy.

    • Ron says:

      Qatar’s ruler is styled as an Emir, but the official name of the country is “State of Qatar”.

      Bahrain’s ruler used to be styled as an Emir, but since 2002 he is styled as a king and the country is considered a kingdom.

  9. Bobber says:

    Thought Cranky got owned half-way through that interview :)

  10. Benji says:

    Incidently, I’ve flown both Qatar and Emirates and I would argue they’re absolutely equal… if not Emirates superior because their website is more functional… I can’t understand why Skytrax has one over the other.

  11. Pingback: Qatar Airways on Codesharing and Competition (Across the Aisle, Part Two) - >> The Cranky Flier

  12. Trent880 says:

    And if you have a zillion dollars and an egomaniacal complex you too can have your very own airline in the Middle East with zero local market and shiny new planes.

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