British Airways announces return to Rīga International Airport

The return to the Latvian market has been announced by British Airways, the British national airline, which will offer flights from Riga to London Heathrow Airport three times a week starting on October 29. Tourism industry is welcoming of this while aviation expert addressed by Latvian Television August 3 is more cautious.

“In spite of various circumstances, it is pleasing to see new players starting at Rīga airport, or players returning,” said the aviation expert, Simons Bartkus. He also said it was clear British Airways would be a niche player who would have to compete with the Latvian national airline airBaltic and Ryanair, both of which offer several daily trips to and from Britain.

“One of the examples is WizzAir, who was the third niche player in Riga for long years. We see that they were unable to compete with the offer from Riga and decided to stop flights to London,” Bartkus concluded, adding that “this route could be good for tourists because the company has a very stable and loyal range of customers and sometimes they offer flights to new destinations.”

When asked whether the new route could open up opportunities for business tourism from Latvia, Bartkus pointed out that "the flight from Riga to Heathrow will land in the evening – around 20:40 local time, which means it is almost impossible to set up a connected flight so that it is not very long to spend at the airport. However, there is a small number of flights in the direction of Asia to which people from Riga can catch up."

The Rīga municipality agency “Riga Investment and Tourism Agency” director , however, told LTV that the flight will be important not only for tourism but also for attracting investment as a city and for Riga airport as a whole. The Agency also pointed out that the arrival of powerful companies in the Latvian market is at the same time positioning the international airport as a growing and attractive Baltic aviation hub.

“It is important to note that negotiations on the renewal of this flight have been ongoing for a long time, and the Riga airport and the Riga Investment and Tourism Agency have been able to prepare a sufficiently competitive offer for British Airways to launch these flights,”

said Fredis Bikovs, director of the agency.

"Despite the fact that several airlines and several airports connect London and Rīga, the peculiarity of the British market is that there is a large segment of people flying only from Heathrow. Above all, it is a more solvent audience, as well as business tourists. Until now, we have faced the problem that Riga is losing competition in the fight for attracting major conferences only because there is no direct connection with Heathrow," Bikovs said.

The Latvian Association of Tourism Agents and Operators (ALTA) also pointed to the potential increase in the number of tourists.

“We certainly believe there will be more benefits. For example, there is potential to increase the number of tourists not only from the United Kingdom, but from around the world, taking into account the extensive network of routes and visibility of the airline at the global level,” said Inga Kavaca, a member of the Latvian Association of Tourism Agents and Operators and head of Vanilla travel.

The agency also said that the entry of a new player in the Latvian market will increase competition among airlines and the main winner will be the passenger.

“We might see price cuts for the specific routes, but at the same time Heathrow opens a wider door to the world because people don't need to change airports to get to some particular destination,” said Kavaca.

It should be noted here that ticket prices also represent airport-related costs which are different at each location and are higher at Heathrow than at London's Stansted or Gatwick airports.

Latvian national airline airBaltic indicated to Latvian Television that it welcomes competition in the market, which leads to the development of companies and industry as a whole.

“We believe that our offer to date, traveling up to twice a day to London's Gatwick airport, is strong enough, so that we do not expect a decline in demand on flights operated by airBaltic,” said the company.

The Latvian national airline and the British national airline have a cooperation agreement on code sharing, which means that competition between the two companies will persist. “We will follow the demand of the London route in order to be able to provide the best possible service to travellers,” added airBaltic.


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