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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.

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