Qatar Airways Post-Embargo Marketing Strategy

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Qatar Airways Marketing

Qatar Airways was negatively impacted by the June 5, 2017 embargo enacted against Qatar, and the company saw an 11 percent network loss and 20 percent revenue loss in 2017. Despite having to cancel and reroute many of its flights, the airline remained resilient and launched several efforts to maintain its strong standing with consumers. These efforts included launching new flight destinations, running two large-scale marketing campaigns, and attending the 2018 Kuwait Aviation Show. Direct information about customers' response to these retention efforts was unavailable, but as of December 2017, the company's CEO stated that while they expected a financial loss post-embargo, they did not expect the number of passengers to decrease.

Impact of Saudi-Led Embargo on Qatar Airways

On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates launched an embargo against Qatar, "severing diplomatic and transport links" with the country. As a result of this embargo, Qatar Airways had to cancel several of its routes, as well as reroute additional flights, due to "airspace closures." In turn, this resulted in longer and therefore less competitive flight times.

The financial impact of the embargo was an 11 percent decrease in Qatar Airways' network and a 20 percent decrease in its revenue in 2017. However, the company's CEO, Al Baker, believes that by adding enough new routes to replace the canceled routes, the number of passengers flying Qatar Airways will not decline as drastically as the revenue has, if at all. Concrete examples of customer retention and the airline's current global position with consumers were difficult to find, but Baker touted the "87 percent seat-occupancy level" on the airline's new routes to Thailand as a measure of success.

Marketing Campaigns in the Wake of the Embargo

After the embargo on June 5, 2017, Qatar Airlines was quick to add new flight destinations, starting in July 2017. This expansion of flight destinations is anticipated to continue into 2018. The airline also launched a new marketing campaign in July 2017, called 'No Borders, Only Horizons.' The campaign message was one of "global inclusion," despite the volatile political climate and the embargo against the airline's namesake country, Qatar. The campaign video's emotional message went viral, garnering 54 million views via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms.

The second marketing campaign launched in the wake of the embargo was a partnership with FIFA leading up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In addition to securing "extensive marketing and branding rights" at the World Cup, potentially reaching billions of viewers, Qatar Airways ran a competition to predict the draw results for the 2018 World Cup. On December 1, 2017, when the official draw was announced, the contestant with the closest prediction won two free Business Class tickets to "anywhere in the world" from Qatar Airways. Shortly after the draw, on December 19, 2017, the airline starting offering new daily direct flights to St. Petersburg. The company hopes to keep the momentum going and encourage more passengers to fly Qatar Airways to attend the World Cup in Russia between June 14-July 15, 2018.

Post-embargo Tradeshow events

In addition to the two direct marketing initiatives mentioned above, Qatar Airlines attended the Kuwait Aviation Show from January 17-20, 2018. At this tradeshow, the company displayed its new Qsuite - an "award-winning business class seat" with double beds and sliding privacy doors - for the Boeing 777. Also on display was the "extra-wide body" Airbus A350-900. The tradeshow targeted a large audience of industry representatives and members of the international media.

Current Position with Consumers

Although there is no pre-existing information about Qatar Airways' current position with consumers, we can look at the signs that the public perception of the company is improving. For instance, TalkWalker shows a total of 93,700 social media mentions over the past 30 days, which is an increase of 10.7% compared to the previous month. The social media buzz has increased in all but one country. Social media mentions have increased by:

7.4% in the United States
22.8% in Qatar
178.8% in Thailand
5.2% in the United Kingdom
70.9% in France
198% in Italy
71.5% in Germany
3.2% in India

The only country for which socila media mentions of Qatar Airways has decreased is in Egypt, which saw a decline of 35.6%. Although there is no indication that the buzz is all positive, just getting its name back on the social media radar is critical for improving its image in the minds of consumers.

Conclusion

Qatar Airways continues its reputation for strong marketing, despite suffering a financial loss after the Saudi-led embargo. The airline has partnered with FIFA ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, launched a viral social media video campaign, attended a 2018 tradeshow, and expanded its menu of flight destinations. All of these efforts aim to maintain and expand its consumer base, in a current political atmosphere that could otherwise drive away the airline's passengers. While the full impact of the embargo and subsequent marketing efforts is yet to be seen, the high seat-occupancy level on new flights and the millions of views of the 'No Borders, Only Horizons' video are promising early indications that passengers are remaining loyal to Qatar Airways.
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