Alliance with OneWorld’ll boost our operations in Nigeria –Benchekroun, Royal Air Maroc finance chief

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By Chinelo Obogo, [email protected]

For Royal Air Maroc, joining oneworld alliance is the most important strategic decision in 10 years. The airline also known as RAM, is the Moroccan national carrier, as well as the country’s largest airline. RAM is wholly owned by the Moroccan government, and has its headquarters on the grounds of Casablanca-Anfa Airport. It operates daily scheduled flights to Lagos from its base in Casablanca to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and it is the first African airline to join the alliance.

Recently, representatives of RAM and the Oneworld Alliance came to Lagos to celebrate two years since the airline became a member. The celebrations had been planned after the airline joined the alliance in 2020, but the pandemic led to its postponement.

Director of Finance for Royal Air Maroc, Karim Benchekroun, said the entry of the airline into the alliance, follows a rigorous implementation programme to integrate the airline and said it took the airline a lot of efforts and time to be a part of the big alliance, adding that this is a great way to bounce back after border closures as a result of COVID-19. He was optimistic that the membership would also help the airline grow passenger demands across the world, especially in Nigeria. The airline had previously suspended its operations to Abuja due to low passenger traffic, but reiterated its interest to return to the city once the traffic improves.

He also said the airline’s membership of Oneworld has enhanced its  position to serve as a gateway to Africa. The alliance is made up of 14 airlines which came together to provide the ‘highest level of service and smoothest connections to as many places as possible.

RAM was founded in July 1953, as a result of a merger of Air Maroc and Air Atlas. It operates both medium-haul and long-haul flights and flies to over 100 destinations worldwide, including countries in Europe, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East.

Oneworld Alliance

It took us a lot of effort to be a part of this big alliance. We started this process many years ago and it gives us pleasure to be part of this organisation.  We have only three African airlines as parts of the world’s alliances and Royal Air Maroc is the first airline to join the Oneworld Alliance from Africa. We have added 30 more destinations to the Oneworld Alliance through our membership. We joined since April 2020 and we want our customers to have access to more than 1000 destinations worldwide and to also have access to the frequent fliers programe where loyal customers can redeem. We have assistance in different airports around the world. We are bringing Oneworld to Africa and also bringing Africa to Oneworld because we are very proud of this alliance.

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Oneworld did not have any member in Africa until now and since we joined, the economic benefits to the airlines and the travelling public has increased. Our goal was and it is still to compete with other airlines.

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With Oneworld, you can travel around the world, all in a single itinerary. Enjoy an array of special privileges and rewards, which include earning and redeeming miles and points on all Oneworld member airlines and, for top tier members, speeding through fast track lanes at select airports and access to more than 650 airport lounges worldwide.

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Nigeria operations

Nigeria is one of the destinations where we resumed operations after the pandemic which had a big impact on aviation industry, travel demands dropped but all airlines are hoping to come back to 2019 levels and Royal Air Maroc was very resilient during this crisis. As you may know, Morocco has a very strict policy to preserve the country from COVID-19 spread. Borders have been closed many times and they were just opened again on February 7 after more than two months of complete closure. When it re-opened, the industry recovered very quickly and it was a very big surprise for us and many airlines flying into Morocco. Royal Air Maroc is naturally an African airline and has been in existence for 63 years and till now, Africa has remained our first priority in our strategy.

Nigeria  is a very important market to us. Although the market is not very strong for Air Maroc now, but we have really big plans to develop our business and we believe it will increase very soon. Nigeria is a very important aviation market for obvious reasons. We have discovered that people who travel with the airline basically travel for business, tourism and religious visits but the demand is small. We will keep pushing to ensure we increase demand in Nigeria because the population is large.

We tried in the past to push the market by commencing Abuja operations for about two to three months but stopped because the business wasn’t there for our daily flights. But we are now determined to push more and we are planning to return to Abuja because of the facilities that we now have and the support of our partner. We have a small market share in this country but we are working hard on expanding it as we leverage on our membership of Oneworld Alliance. I can assure you that we would increase our business in this country significantly. We are trying to have tourists from Nigeria who will spend time in Morocooc because there are so many things to see there. There is also the religious busieness between both countries but in all, the goal is to push for a bigger market share because the country is a huge market. We are very strong in other countries but for Nigeria. When compared to other countries, the figures are small but our goal is to expand the market share.

We have short and long term goals and policies and for 2022 and 2023, ours is to increase capacity and frequencies. We want to reach and exceed our 2019 capacity as quickly as possible and also add more frequencies to our network.

Collaboration

We have the same challenge of having multiple destinations in Morocco with foreign just like Nigeria and all the European airlines flying into Morocco especially the low cost airlines and we have three airports in the country. It is a very tough competition. However, we would love to have some collaboration with local airlines in Nigeria but to do that, the network would have to match because a customer arriving Lagos should have the right connection with the airline and vice versa. We are currently flying into Nigeria because there is an agreement with the civil aviation authorities of both countries. So, Nigerian airlines are welcome in Morocco. We are going to explore any oppourtunities we can have with local airlines to set up partnerships.

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