In our latest world travel article Together chatted with Guy Ceunen, Commercial Manager Belux at Qatar Airways.
After more than a year of restrictions, most of us are dreaming about what we will do once this pandemic is under control, when people are vaccinated and we can finally be released to live our lives. For those of us with itchy feet, these “interesting times” of confinement have certainly been confining, but with the vaccine rollout we can dare to dream again of travel and visiting new places or reacquainting ourselves with places we have known and want to revisit.
One of the great pleasures of travel is anticipation, having something to look forward to, to imagine and plan for – at the moment we have all the time in the world to reflect and think about where we can travel to in future. For many people the holiday begins the moment they settle into their plane seat on their way to their destination; with that in mind, we spoke with Guy Ceunen, Commercial Manager Belux at Qatar Airways, an airline with unparalleled global reach, to find out more about these possibilities.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Qatar Airways direct flight to Qatar. Why is this an important route for you?
Indeed, we started 10 years ago, that was when the first flights took off from Brussels to Doha. I was there and remember it well, it was a very nice experience. Brussels has always been a very strategic destination for us. It is the home of the European institutions and NATO. In terms of corporate travel, there are strong trade relations between Belgium and Qatar.
2022 is going to be a huge year for you with the football World Cup taking place in Qatar, are you ready? Yes, we are ready for it. We have an extensive network, so there’s no issue at all for transporting fans to matches. We now operate 130 destinations. So yes, we’re ready for it.
What has it been like during the pandemic?
The expat market has always been an important passenger profile for us, even during the pandemic. This has become even more important, because many people needed to travel back home. We repatriated 3 million passengers during the pandemic, among them 12,000 Belgians. It’s an important segment for us, and we really tried to look after our passengers.
How many flights would you have per week at the moment?
Currently, we have five weekly flights: two in the morning and three afternoon flights, Pre-Covid, we had eight weekly flights. This frequency allows us to use our network to reach most of our destinations, we have a global network with links to the Middle East, East Africa, South Africa, Asia, and also Australia and New Zealand. We are really a link to the whole world.
What is it like to fly with Qatar Airways?
Until April we are using the Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft for the Brussels-Doha route, but when we move to our summer schedule in April we will start to use the Airbus 350, which is one of the newest aircrafts in our fleet. It’s a very green aircraft and doesn’t consume a lot of fuel, this helps us to reduce our carbon footprint.
And in terms of passenger comfort what do you offer?
We are constantly innovating and investing in our product. We have been voted ‘World’s Best Airline’by Skytrax, they’re the global benchmark of airline standards. Skytrax independent certification has given Qatar Airways a 5 star rating: “One of the first-ever airlines to be awarded 5-Star status, Qatar Airways maintains its global leadership for delivering the highest standards of product and service to customers. Cabin seating and amenities, food & beverages and IFE are setting or meeting global Best Practice, supported by 5-Star cabin staff service.”
Perhaps unusually for a luxury brand you offer advantages to students.
Yes, we recently introduced the student club which is a frequent flyer programme, geared towards students. It offers student fares, free excess baggage, complimentary WiFi. We see young people as our future travelers, so it’s good to win their loyalty early on.
Our latest product is the Qsuite, we don’t have this yet on the Brussels flight, but we have it on most of the connecting flights out of Doha. It is a very revolutionary product, it allows a passenger – or a couple – to close off their seats using sliding doors. The configuration is one seat at the side and two seats in the middle. The advantage is that these two seats can be converted into a double bed, what we call the honeymoon suite. It can also be converted into a kind of cubic of four seats when you’re traveling as a family.
We also pay a lot of attention to the catering on board, both Economy and Business passengers have a wide range of different meals that can meet any religious or dietary requirements. The onboard entertainment system offers a super high speed WiFi, one hour is complimentary. The entertainment system can be activated by scanning the QR code and operating it via your smartphone, it also has Bluetooth functionality.
What about Doha itself?
Obviously, you’re going to have huge numbers for the World Cup. Do you think Doha will become more well known as a destination, not just for the business traveler, but for the leisure traveler? I think there will be a lot of word-of-mouth publicity. Qatar has invested a lot to attract tourists, not only corporate travelers, there are a lot of museums, including the Islamic Museum, which is beautiful. The city itself has a great souk, which gives a flavour of Middle Eastern culture. It’s a very friendly country to visit. The hotels are of a very high standard and there are beach resorts. I think it will become a more popular stop over point. We’re ready to receive tourists and we’re taking every precaution in relation to COVID.
How has the pandemic changed things? I think it will take some time to go back to normal. We are investing into different applications, which makes travel more easy for passengers, we are also working together with IATA on an app where passengers can easily find information about the different regulations per country with regards to Covid-19. Also, they can get information where they can get tested. We are currently testing the app, I think these kind of applications will be very important in the future to allow people to travel more easily. www.qatarairways.com/en-be