2018 was a challenging trading environment, with the stronger dollar, rising oil prices and higher interest rates all impacting our performance. Although higher oil prices will continue to affect our operating costs and performance, pricing stability at the current level is also likely to stimulate demand for regional travel. We continue to invest in our fleet, network and operations and our work in our first nine years of operations has seen us become an intrinsic part of the aviation industry.
Our young fleet continues to grow, and we ended the year with up to 60 aircraft. Product innovation continues to be at the heart of what we do, which has resulted in the introduction of an award-winning new cabin interior, the launch of our holiday's division and our new fare structure, which has been designed to cater to passengers with different travel needs and budget. Through our strategic partnership with Emirates, we have been able to optimise our network to benefit the passenger.
We launched several new routes this year including Catania, Krakow, Kinshasa, our seasonal summer routes to Batumi, Dubrovnik, Qabala and Tivat and for the first time for a UAE national carrier, direct daily flights to Helsinki. We also restarted flights to Chittagong, Erbil, Shymkent and Sulaimaniyah. We have cancelled operations to some destinations as well as made investments in the development of other routes to aid their maturity.
The benefits of our investments, aligned with our long-term financial goals, provide a solid foundation for the next phase of development for the airline. We are well placed to contribute to an increase in connectivity of Dubai’s aviation hub as we see our new route structure mature.
Our partnership with Emirates has seen us spend significant time and resources on the network alignment and we have seen millions of passengers benefit from our work.
We remain on track to reach a combined network of 240 destinations by 2022. Flights to 11 of our destinations have relocated to Terminal 3 at Dubai International (DXB) as we continue to work closely with Emirates to increase connectivity. Emirates Skywards has become the loyalty programme for both airlines, a strategic move that builds on the success of our partnership which further provides passengers with more travel options.
As we look forward to 2019, there is much to be optimistic about. We are getting closer to Expo 2020, part of Dubai Plan 2021 and we are excited about the role we will play in removing barriers to travel and creating free flows of trade and tourism. The increase of visitors from new markets and Russia are excellent examples of how this benefits the UAE along with the continued flow of tourists from Saudi Arabia and India.
The relaxing of visa requirements to the UAE has increased the number of visitors, making Dubai the 4th most visited city in the world. It has also contributed to the UAE has the world’s strongest passport in terms of freedom of movement and visa-free travel, an achievement I am especially proud of. This coincides with the Year of Zayed and is a true reflection of the legacy of our founding father and the efforts of our leadership.
While there is much work ahead of us as an organisation, I remain confident in the market. I look forward to seeing our network and fleet grow. I would like to thank the leadership of the UAE for their support of our national carriers and for the opportunity to support the success of the UAE.
Originally published by Arabian Business