Abu Dhabi-based charter group Royal Jet has partnered with Air Seychelles to open a new FBO at Mahé International Airport, the archipelago’s main gateway. The partners believe that the new Air Seychelles VIP facility could trigger a spate of FBO developments in other parts of Africa.
The Seychelles, a group of 115 islands lying 1,100 miles off the African mainland in the Indian Ocean and 660 miles northeast of Madagascar’s northern tip, are only four hours south of Abu Dhabi, and are also in the same time zone, offering a convenient but distinctive leisure and honeymoon destination to wealthy Gulf Arabs.
“Working closely with Air Seychelles, Royal Jet will provide expertise in assisting to manage and promote the FBO in line with what we…offer to royalty, heads of state and VIP guests at our…FBO at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Our best practices over the years serving royalty will be replicated on the islands but will provide that local touch that makes Seychelles hospitality distinctive,” said Shane O’Hare, president and CEO of Royal Jet.
The island attracts some 200,000 visitors a year, and island officials are keen to improve the archipelago’s tourism potential. The FBO is seen as the key to attracting the luxury market. “Air Seychelles VIP is the logical next step for our business, as we seek to diversify our business and attract new high-yielding tourism segments to our archipelago,” said Cramer Ball, Air Seychelles’ CEO.
In the past, the facility was owned by the Seychelles Department of Foreign Affairs and used as a lounge for VIP delegations, O’Hare said. “There’s a lot of leisure traffic coming down. In the past no one could use this facility. Honeymooners would have gone through the main terminal and lined up like regular airline passengers,” he said.
The FBO houses four executive rooms for 55 people, and will provide round-the-clock hostess service and dedicated ramp staff. “The delivery, service-language, catering, everything is first-class. We are continuing to build on the quality and luxury of the facility. Part of this is the service standard, [which involves] three months of training,” O’Hare added.
Royal Jet previously had to rely on ground-handling operators that were focused more on airlines at Mahé, said O’Hare. By locating an FBO at the airport, the company can create a specific list of offerings, including refueling, cleaning, line maintenance, special engineering services, aircraft washing, parking and special catering. “All of those kinds of things are all properly managed and costed. This is where we are so pleased with the Air Seychelles approach,” O’Hare said.
“Sometimes the customer base is high-end, and they expect a high standard of service: hotel, FBO, within 10 minutes, everything’s taken care of, you don’t even see your luggage. It’s the same thing coming the other way. Some of these wealthy individuals will come and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a holiday in the Seychelles. It provides that seamless experience all the way through.”
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan owns two properties there, including a palace, and is known to visit the islands frequently. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s Prime Minister, is believed to be another landowner and frequent visitor.
As part of its commitment to its relationship with the island group, Royal Jet is offering luxury tourism to the Seychelles. Luxury vacations to the Seychelles, launched last summer, “are now growing strongly,” he said.
FBO Opportunity Beyond the Archipelago
O’Hare sees a shortage of FBOs on the African continent and predicts the new facility will boost fresh FBO development elsewhere in the Indian Ocean and on the mainland. He said that lack of an FBO at a particular location deters visits from wealthy individuals or private-jet operators.
“If you have a tourism strategy for your country, FBOs are important, particularly if you are targeting the high-end market. If you don’t have an FBO, you’re restricting the growth of a for wealthy individuals.” He added, “In the private-aviation segment, because FBOs generally form part of a global network, [wealthy travelers] know where the FBOs are,” he said.
O’Hare said private aviation offers as much potential as the growing scheduled airline market in Africa, with East Africa a particular target for Royal Jet given its proximity to the Middle East. “There are so many opportunities. Tanzania is a fantastic place. There are Kenya and Uganda. In Zanzibar, the tourism base is somewhat [smaller], but growing. We operate to these places, [and indeed to] everywhere in Africa. There’s steady growth in the private-jet sector,” he said.
“Everyone knows that Africa has a disjointed network. It is difficult to get from one place to another. Again, infrastructure is appearing slowly. Traffic is coming from the Middle East and China, and that’s fueling the airline hubs in the Middle East. We are starting to see that maturing, if you like, of the economies there,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of charter work across Africa these days, such as Chinese delegations across the region. There’s enormous potential.”