UAE airlines score Rugby World Cup bonanza as fans head to Britain

Airlines are receiving a welcome boost in passenger numbers this month as rugby fans from Australia and New Zealand travel to support their teams at the World Cup in Britain.

The competition is heating up as it nears completion. Yesterday, New Zealand took on France in the quarter-final, and today Australia hope to brush aside Scotland to reach the semi-final.

Emirates said it was “almost impossible” to weed out figures for passengers who are travelling exclusively for the Rugby World Cup, but other carriers that fly via the UAE to Britain have had a strong month so far, thanks to the tournament.


“Virgin Australia has seen strong demand over the month of October while the 2015 Rugby World Cup has been underway in the United Kingdom for passengers travelling to Abu Dhabi,” said a spokesman from the airline.

Etihad Airways has a 21.24 per cent stake in the Australian carrier. Together they offer 42 flights per week from Australia to Abu Dhabi and beyond.

A Qantas spokeswoman said the airline was also experiencing stronger demand for flights between Australia and Britain this month. The carrier uses Dubai as an aviation hub for its flights between the two countries.

“For the grand final week, bookings from points of sale in Australia have seen spikes around the same time as victories in the World Cup,” said the spokeswoman, adding that although seats remained available for those wishing to make last-minute bookings, airfares had risen because of increased demand.

Peter Morris, the chief economist at Ascend Flightglobal Consultancy in Britain, said the Rugby World Cup was definitely a positive factor for airlines at a generally “slow” time of the year.

Because the sporting event was being held over six weeks, many visitors had taken the opportunity for further tourism activities around Britain and Europe, combining a holiday with the rugby, said Mr Morris.

According to the International Air Transport Association (Iata), “demand for aviation connectivity remains strong” amid the mixed global economic outlook.

“We are seeing the benefits of that connectivity play out at the Rugby World Cup taking place in England. Over 450,000 international fans are expected to attend the six-week pinnacle event of the sport,” said Tony Tyler, Iata’s chief executive, this month.

The consultancy EY estimates that rugby fans will directly spend £70 million (Dh397.3m) and add £2.2 billion to Britain’s economy.

Although there will generally be higher spending as a result of increased travels during the Rugby World Cup period, evidence from many other international sporting events suggests there is “a displacement effect”, according to Mr Morris.

In other words, some travellers avoid those dates because of higher airfares and hotel room rates, which would even out the demand, he said.

selgazzar@thenational.ae

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