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European Discounter Wizz Air Eyes Saudi Arabia Expansion As Kingdom Seeks Western Tourists

European Discounter Wizz Air Eyes Saudi Arabia Expansion As Kingdom Seeks Western Tourists

Europe’s Wizz Air is hoping to take advantage of Saudi Arabia’s push for Western tourists and is eyeing a potential subsidiary in the Kingdom. The Hungarian low-cost carrier opened its first base outside of Europe in neighbouring Abu Dhabi in 2020 to take advantage of the booming demand for budget travel across the region.

Wizz Air said on Tuesday that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment which will “explore airline market development opportunities in the Kingdom”.

Saudi Arabia’s progressive but controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is keen to diversify the oil-rich Kingdom’s economy and officials are working on plans to triple passenger traffic in the Kingdom by 2030 as part of the wider Vision 2030 diversification programme.

As many as 100 million tourists could visit Saudi Arabia over the next ten years with tourism contributing around 10 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product.

A spokesperson for Wizz Air said the carrier was keen to explore the “unprecedented opportunities for airlines and the aviation supply chain” as part of Saudia Arabia’s ambitious diversification programme.

“Wizz Air’s innovative and sustainable ultra-low-cost-carrier model is proven to develop markets by making air travel affordable for more people than ever before,” the airline said in a statement.

“The MoU reflects a shared vision between the parties on the potential Wizz Air could bring to the Kingdom to stimulate new demand, thereby making a significant contribution to Saudi Arabia’s planned growth.”

Along with inviting investment from foreign carriers, Saudi officials are also said to be weighing up the potential of starting an entirely new carrier which would appeal to a wider and more liberal passenger demographic than the Kingdom’s existing Saudia Airlines flag carrier.

The new airline would be modelled on the success of Persian Gulf success stories Emirates and Qatar Airways, while Saudia would be spun-off to handle Hajj pilgrimage services from its Jeddah hub.

Wizz Air’s subsidiary in Abu Dhabi was created in partnership with the local Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company and got off the ground in the midst of the pandemic. The airline has opened a slew of routes across the region operating a fleet of four Airbus A321neo aircraft.

Wizz Air chief executive József Váradi said in late 2019 that he believed the airline had the “potential to be a significant player in the region”.

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