Branson’s Virgin Atlantic vows to Sheikh up airline market

Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson marked the inaugural flight of the airline to Dubai in his own inimitable style last week by posing on the wing of the plane wearing a Jalabiyyah — traditional Arab men’s dress.

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By  Tim Addington Published  April 2, 2006

Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson marked the inaugural flight of the airline to Dubai in his own inimitable style last week by posing on the wing of the plane wearing a Jalabiyyah — traditional Arab men’s dress. The billionaire British business tycoon donned the white costume, which is colloquially known as the Dishdasha, flanked by two women also wearing Arabic dress. Virgin, which will operate four flights a week on the London to Dubai route, increasing to daily flights from 1 June, is targeting 10% market share in its first year of operation. Stephanie Price Whittle, Virgin’s marketing communications manager for the UAE, said the airline had sought approval for Branson’s PR stunt from the Dubai Executive Office and Dubai International Airport, so as not to cause cultural offence. More than 150 British-based journalists and VIPs were onboard the flight which touched down half an hour early at 8.10am last Tuesday. The airline has mounted an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign ahead of the first flight, which has seen it poke fun at rival Emirates’ tagline ‘Keep discovering’. Print and outdoor ads, developed by ad agency Team Y&R state: ‘Keep discovering until you find the best’. Virgin also paid 7Days newspaper to turn the colour of its front-page font to red last Tuesday. At a press conference held in the grounds of the Burj Al Arab the same day, Branson arrived hanging off a double decker London bus accompanied by the song London Calling by British band The Clash. Referring to being greeted by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of the Department of Civil Aviation and chairman of the Emirates Group, Branson, joked: “It must be rare when the chairman of your rival airline comes to greet you at the airport.” He said that both Emirates and British Airways had already cut their fares to the UK in response to Virgin’s opening flight offers. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways also had a sideswipe at Virgin, with an advertisement developed by TBWA\Raad. The ad read: ‘With 25 Etihad flights a week, the UK is hardly virgin territory’.

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