Bahraini flag carrier Gulf Air intends to pursue a new course as a “boutique carrier” as it tries to carve out a market niche for itself in the increasingly crowded Gulf marketplace.

The airline is in the middle of a major re-fleeting exercise, introduced a new business-class product in 2018 and has previously said it plans to extend its route network over the next few years, with the possibility of flying to the US for the first time.

The airline has accepted for some time that it cannot compete directly with the “Big Three” Gulf carriers—Dubai-based Emirates Airline, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Doha-based Qatar Airways. It has, in recent years, focused on building up higher-yielding, higher-frequency regional services rather than the long-haul transit model it previously favored.

At a presentation in the Bahraini capital, Manama, the airline’s chairman Zayed Alzayani said the new boutique business model concept would reinforce its focus on product and customer experience. The airline aims to create a personalized service offering that it hopes will allow it to stand out against what it describes as “bigger airlines that are more volume driven.”

As well as its influx of new aircraft and new premium cabin, Gulf Air will continue to open new destinations in 2019 and aims to make maximum use of the facilities offered by a new terminal at Bahrain International Airport, which is scheduled to open toward the end of the year.

“Working hand-in-hand with Gulf Air Group, Bahrain Tourist and Exhibition Authority and Bahrain Airport Co. with the launch of the new terminal will allow the new Gulf Air to represent Bahrain to the world and open more bridges to and from the island,” Alzayani said.

In 2018, Gulf Air announced its new five-year strategy, which began with a rebranding, the delivery of five Boeing 787-9s and an Airbus 320neo as well as six new destinations: Alexandria and Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, Baku (Azerbaijan), Casablanca (Morocco) and Bangalore and Calicut (India). Two more 787-9s and five more A320neos are expected this year.

The carrier also launched “The Bahrain Stopover,” which allows passengers to stop and spend a number of nights on the island, including hotels, airport transfers and tours before continuing to their final destination.

Alan Dron alandron@adepteditorial.com