In Focus: 5 business rules to live by from our CEO Sammy Musa

For this month’s “In Focus” interview, we spoke to our very own CEO and Managing Partner of Gulf Reps, Sammy Musa. Sammy has a diverse background in management and leadership in both Europe and the Middle East. He was fundamental in the construction and delivery of one of Africa’s most innovative dairy collection systems creating an entire value chain that was mutually beneficial for all partners, as well as building several businesses in the UK. In 2015 he took over as managing partner for Gulf Reps and the company has seen unprecedented growth ever since. We asked Sammy to outline the 5 business rules he lives by, and we believe there’s something for everyone to learn here:

1. Honesty and Integrity

I grew up in a small village in the north of England. There was no hiding from the truth there, your every move was captured by the 1980’s equivalent of the CCTV camera: The nosey neighbour. To be ‘absolutely, brutally honest’ was something that was instilled in us as children. We are all human, we make mistakes, but in business, I’ve found that anything other than total honesty has far too many negative impacts. To the same extent, I always work with integrity. I believe that people are inherently good, and I work with everyone I meet on face value. Of course, at times you get burned by people who don’t live by the same values, but nonetheless, I won’t ever stop living by these two values. They are part of my makeup and I strongly believe that failure to work honestly and with integrity with my clients, partners and team will result in failure in the long term. 

2. Reliability

Many years ago I worked on a huge project in Africa. Now, whilst not all of Africa has issues with timekeeping, this particular enclave did. It drove me crazy. In the UK if you arrive at a 3 pm meeting at 3:02 you’re late! This is how I’ve always operated. If I  make a promise I always keep it barring force majeure. Equally, I’m comfortable saying “no” to people. It’s not because I don’t want to help, it’s because I don’t believe I can achieve what is required in the timescale needed. I’d rather be honest and reliable than overly optimistic and flakey. 

3. Be Inspiring

Every business book in the world will talk about inspiring leadership and every leader has his own style. I personally try to lead by example. Whilst I work extremely hard to achieve success, I am fortunate enough to have an amazing team around me. You have to trust your team to deliver to the level and standard that you set. I ensure that my teams are clear in their direction, where we are heading, what we are trying to achieve and I try to make sure they believe that it is only possible if we all do it together. This culture of togetherness allows me to be with the team even when I am not physically there. They know what it means to be part of Gulf Reps, they know what standards we set for our client’s and for our partners, they know what is an acceptable level of delivery and what is not. 

4. Keep Innovating

Like it or not our industry is going through a radical change. All change represents opportunity, and it is in innovations, particularly innovations from other industries that we can exploit those changes. I encourage everyone around me to keep up to date with the latest in our industry, but also from around other industries, it’s surprising how many innovations can be gleaned from what is happening in totally different industries. I remember at the heart of the pandemic and lockdowns reading an article in New Scientist magazine about advances in remote surgery through virtual reality. This led to a proposal of VR familiarization trips for one of our clients that could allow for prospective travellers to experience destinations before they travel. 

5. Know Your Strengths, Know Your Weaknesses, Fill the Gaps

I have fastidious attention to detail. I know it and I allow my teams to use it regularly. Whenever there’s a new press release, or a white paper, or even this blog post, I run my eye through it as I have an innate ability to spot errors. However, whilst I’m a competent presenter and public speaker, I hate it. That’s why I ensure that the people around me fill the gaps that I leave behind. In the end, the art of building a company is building teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. And that starts with me.  

Gulf Reps

Gulf Reps is the leading travel and tourism representation company in the Middle East. With over 60 years of regional and industry experience. Gulf Reps has served clients on six continents delivering transformative results to everyone from hoteliers to tourism boards. Our mix of world-class marketing expertise, PR specialists, unparalleled connections and relationships and eclectic mix of marketing channels makes working with Gulf Reps the only sure way to drive Middle Eastern tourists to your destination.

Arab Travellers: Who really makes the travel decisions in Arab households?

Arab travellers are a sought after demographic. Collecting data from the Insight Out Consumer Travel Report 2018, UNWTO 2019 Travel Report, The State of Social Media MENA 2019 and countless interviews and questionnaires we have conducted over the years, we ask the simple question: who really makes the travel decisions in Arab households?

Who Cares?

The question is an important one and goes to the crux of what it means to be a great representation company. Knowing your customers, their habits, their decision-making processes, and how they finally make purchases, allows you to influence the various stages of the buyer’s journey. This is done by using the correct channels and the most appropriate content for each target customer. Stereotypes are real. They exist, whether we like it or not. Lazy marketing employees use these stereotypes to have us believe that Arab men make all major financial decisions and that their iron will and meek wives make the question asked above a redundant one. Sadly, stereotypes haven’t followed the data whatsoever in this case.

Why Arab Travellers?

Arab GCC travellers are the holy grail of international travellers for those in the know. They spend on average 2 times longer on their holiday, spend approximately 6 times more than the average traveller and have a tendency to repeat visits. To acquire a single Arab family to your destination is equivalent to 6 families from other regions. Acquiring the Arabian traveller is a mission worth undertaking and it starts with the biggest question of them all: Who really makes the travel decisions in Arab households?

So who makes the decisions?

The data is clear, Arab women are the PRIMARY decision-makers when it comes to destinations for GCC Arab households. They obtain information from a range of sources, including online reviews, social media, friends feedback and personal experiences. They collate these views and then use their internal filter to decipher whether the destination is right for them. One of the critical filters includes whether the location is child-friendly, Muslim friendly and whether it has the expected level of service. 

So, now you know. So what?

Armed with this information, as a destination you should ask yourself: Are you putting enough resources and budget into attracting Arab travellers? Are you creating campaigns and delivering content that meets the actual decision-makers need at the time of making her decision? Does your representation company have solutions to help you do this? At Gulf Reps we truly understand the Arabian traveller, we have built direct to consumer channels with over 60,000 Arab international travellers for the exclusive use of our clients to promote their destinations. We not only build campaigns to bring Arab travellers to you, but we also have case study after case study that proves the efficacy of our work. 

Gulf Reps

Gulf Reps is the leading travel and tourism representation company in the Middle East. With over 60 years of regional and industry experience. Gulf Reps has served clients on six continents delivering transformative results to everyone from hoteliers to tourism boards. Our mix of world-class marketing expertise, PR specialists, unparalleled connections and relationships and eclectic mix of marketing channels makes working with Gulf Reps the only sure way to drive Middle Eastern tourists to your destination.

5 Reasons travel marketing campaigns fail

Once upon a time, firearms just weren’t that reliable. You’d load your gun, pull the trigger and be summarily shot in the face. The term used to describe this undesirable, albeit accidental, phenomenon is called “backfire”. It happens in marketing too, where groupthink, overzealous leadership, an over-ambitious agency or just plain ignorance produces marketing campaigns that have the world making this emoji face: 🤔. In this post, we’ll explore the top 5 reasons travel marketing campaigns fail and how to avoid them. 

1. Honesty

“Aleppo is a lively bustling city, with beautiful scenic walks, exquisite architecture and a history to die for.” Well, this is technically true, but it is also war-torn, militia filled and frankly the worlds most dangerous city. All marketing is based on relative truth. Not to say that marketers lie, but the truth can often not be explained in 5 words. For example, “Head and Shoulders will clear your dandruff in 7 days”. This is a relative truth. It’s not an absolute truth. The absolute truth is “If you use head and shoulders every day for at least 7 days, but more likely 10 days, then there is a high probability that your dandruff will disappear, but if you stop using head and shoulders after this time, it is almost guaranteed that your dandruff will re-appear”. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? Absolutely truth, or relative truth, it doesn’t matter, just don’t LIE. The tiny country of Lithuania learned this lesson the hard way, when they launched their $150,000 “Real is Beautiful” campaign, only to use stock imagery of other Nordic and eastern European countries in the campaign. There’s no relativity there – that’s just a lie. 

2. Travel marketing campaigns fail: Inappropriate Targetting

One of the main reasons travel marketing campaigns fail is inappropriate targeting. Who do you actually want to visit your destination? Often the response will be “everyone”. But that’s not actually true, “everyone” is a pretty massive concept in marketing, because it includes all the good people, and frankly all the bad people too. If you’re marketing a quaint scenic village in the Swiss Alps, you don’t want stag parties from the UK arriving at your destination. Taking the time to appropriately target your prospective visitor is critical to ensuring the results you’re looking for from your destination marketing campaign. But equally important is to look at all the different segments that you’ll be targetting and ask the question: “Do these individual segments work well together?” 

3. Bad Timing

Much like comedy, marketing is all about timing. However, we’re not after hilarious results. The timing of campaigns can be extremely difficult to judge. There are standard awareness days, cultural holidays, religious holidays, political and sporting events that marketers can navigate around, but what about the one-off sudden events? Every campaign should have a contingency plan, bracing themselves for the “what-if” scenarios. Whilst it’s easy enough to pause digital campaigns, outdoor, events and other campaigns can be more challenging, which is why it’s critical to have these “what-if” plans in place. 

4. Bad Taste

Some campaigns are just…. Bad. The challenge that faces travel marketing is a unique one. A destination may be being promoted by an agency in their own country around the globe. The problem with this is that what is seen as funny in some countries is seen as downright distasteful in others. 

5. Cultural Insensitivity

Finally, cultural sensitivity. Much like ads that are in bad taste, cultural sensitivity is critical when trying to attract visitors from certain regions. The long white vales worn by Arab men may seem amusing to you, but in this region, they have both culturally and practical applications. Even small details such as the destain shown by some in this region when the soles of the feet are shown in an advert are something you couldn’t possibly be expected to know unless you’re a regional expert. That’s why we pride ourselves in our 60 years of regional expertise and know that when we deliver campaigns for our clients we are hitting all the right buttons and none of the wrong ones.

Gulf Reps

Gulf Reps is the leading travel and tourism representation company in the Middle East. With over 60 years of regional and industry experience. Gulf Reps has served clients on six continents delivering transformative results to everyone from hoteliers to tourism boards. Our mix of world-class marketing expertise, PR specialists, unparalleled connections and relationships and eclectic mix of marketing channels makes working with Gulf Reps the only sure way to drive Middle Eastern tourists to your destination.

Why Sales Calls Still Matter in the Digital Era

What are sales calls?

Sales calls take different forms. The stereotypical idea of the verbose Englishman talking rapidly to an unwitting prospective customer is dead. It certainly has no place in the travel representation industry. Sales calls are much more about relationships. Two entities, the travel representation company and the travel agent, who already have a close relationship, impart knowledge in a way that makes it easier for the latter to sell or persuade prospective travellers.

Despite the modern sales call being a two-way street, we as a travel representation company are very much pitching our clients to the travel agent. We also hear direct traveller feedback from the travel agents. This includes their destination preferences, their previous experience and their willingness to travel to a new destination. This information is fed back in a systematic way to our clients. Together we utilize this information to craft new, more effective campaigns for the future. 

How do sales calls work in the travel representation industry?

As a travel representation company we have a diverse number of sales calls that we undertake. In part, it depends on what the client wants, but also what is most effective for our target audience. The most common form takes place in our weekly visits. We go to travel agencies, sit with the teams, explore our client’s offerings, field any questions they may have and share content that they can use in their social or printed media. On occasion, our clients are able to come to the region. In that case, we set up a special tour of each of the major travel agencies, and take time to ensure that they are all given time directly with the client. This normally forms part of a wider mix of activities, particularly special events, which are a separate part of the marketing mix. Sometimes our clients need specific feedback on a specific topic. In these cases, we’ll use the phone and email to collect data and share that data directly with our clients.

Why are sales calls important?

The regional context is important here. In the Middle East, the travel agent is still the dominant point of sale for the travel industry. Yes, there’s an increasing number of people who book online, especially for business travel, but when it comes to the main family holidays, the travel agent still rules the roost. Now, with that in mind, it is also important to note that even those who book at travel agents often do significant amounts of research online before they go to the travel agent, which is why it’s so important for all of our clients to have a multi-layered approach to their marketing, ensuring that there’s a marketing touchpoint at every stage of the buying cycle. Ultimately, the travel agencies need to know what they are selling. They need to feel confident that the destination they are offering to their clients, many of whom will have a long-standing relationship with the travel agent, is to their satisfaction. Therefore, an agent cannot sell what he does not know. This is the importance of sales calls, to ensure that agents sell with confidence, as well as to help shift the market share of destinations away from our competitor destinations to our client’s destinations. 

What’s the wider mix of activities?

Sales calls alone aren’t effective at achieving these aims. They need to be part of a wider mix of content, experiences, and events that all work towards the objective of driving deep awareness of a destination. These other parts of the marketing mix are important too, and they include:

  1. Consumer direct marketing: Travellers are increasingly researching their destinations themselves, so it’s important to have access to a large number of your target market so clients can advertise to you. Fortunately, at Gulf Reps, we have a large platform of Arabic speaking international travellers to whom we can market our client’s offerings. 
  2. Events: Small boutique events in luxury hotels, or large trade shows. Whatever the event, for most of our partners in the industry, attendance is mandatory. We ensure that the time is best utilised by setting up the right meetings with the right people.
  3. Familiarization Trips: Agents who go on familiarization trips can talk with absolute confidence about the destination and are able to sell it significantly more effective. 
  4. Influencer testimonials: By their very nature influencers have a voice that can be utilized by our clients to deliver messages to prospective clients.
  5. Reviews: Reviews in English and Arabic on the main review sites are a really important part of the mix, especially for hoteliers.

In the end….

Sales calls are still an extremely important part of the sales and marketing mix in our industry. They serve as a bridge between clients and those selling their destinations or hotels. Whilst the digital revolution of the travel industry has shifted some of the research phases of the buying cycle online, in the Middle East the actual purchase is still most likely to occur at the travel agent. 

Gulf Reps

Gulf Reps is the leading travel and tourism representation company in the Middle East. With over 60 years of regional and industry experience. Gulf Reps has served clients on six continents delivering transformative results to everyone from hoteliers to tourism boards. Our mix of world-class marketing expertise, PR specialists, unparalleled connections and relationships and eclectic mix of marketing channels makes working with Gulf Reps the only sure way to drive Middle Eastern tourists to your destination.

The Top European Destinations for the Middle Eastern Traveler

Introduction

What are the top European Destinations for the Middle Eastern Traveler? Slowly, the world of travel and tourism starts to return to a semblance of normality. Holidays are something to be considered rather than feared. However, the destination selection criteria have changed somewhat. Gone are the arbitrary selections based purely on needs and wants, now travellers must consider the practicality of travel. Middle Eastern travellers remain the most sought after subset of international travellers due to their longer than average duration of stay and significantly higher average spend. So what are the top European destinations for Middle Eastern travellers as we enter into the winter period?

Selection Criteria For The Middle Eastern Traveler

The primary selection criteria for top European destinations for the Middle Eastern Traveler here is where an Emirate in the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Qatar has a travel corridor with each country or is on their respective green lists. A travel corridor is essentially a preferential air bridge where travellers to and from destinations needn’t quarantine on arrival or upon return.  

Germany & Austria

It may appear foolhardy to lump these 2 destinations together, but as they share such a huge land border that is easily crossed by car, if you’re visiting one you may as well visit both. Who knows what 2022 holds?! Austria is a picture-perfect, holiday postcard, hallmark moment photographers dream. With rolling hills, picturesque scenery, and traditional villages and hotels, Austria really does have a lot to offer those seeking solitude from the hustle and bustle of modern city life. Germany on the other hand has it all. From skiing to nightclubs, massive cities, to tiny villages, traditional to modern. Germany can rightly be considered as multiple destinations at once. This offers a unique opportunity to the Middle Eastern Traveller, who is used to having 3, 4 or even 5 holidays per year, Germany could potentially satisfy all of those destination needs in a single visit. 

Spain

Winter, Summer, Spring or Autumn, Spain remains an extraordinary tourism destination. Especially the Costa Del Sol which boasts some of the most beautiful beaches, hotels and restaurants on the entire continent. For Middle Eastern travellers in particular Spain is a home away from home. Hospitable, Muslim friendly, and with an almost endless array of things to do and see, expect Spain to be high on the list of must-visit places this winter for Middle Eastern Travellers. Those that are visiting should definitely consider The Puente Romano luxury 5-star hotel in Marbella, which is sure to wow any visitor.  

Italy

In the Winter Italy is a country of 2 halves. Mountainous, snowy and downright cold in the north with tremendous skiing facilities in the Dolomites and Aosta Valley. Then the warm, sumptuous, luxurious south with beautiful villages and architecture. In particular, Lecce and Naples are holidaymakers dreams at this time of year. 

Malta

For those who have never visited, Malta appears to be an entire island carved out of a single block of granite. Hilly villages with picturesque cottages sliding down towards the warm mediterranean sea, Malta is still a relatively untouched gem for the Middle Eastern Traveller. For the explorer, couple, shopper or family, Malta has an experience for everyone. 

Covid Precautions for the Middle Eastern Traveler

All destinations are undertaking covid precautions, some more strict than others. Critically for destinations looking to attract Middle Eastern tourist is to ensure that Covid precautions are unobtrusive and where necessary gender-segregated. All destinations require you to have a vaccine, and as the rules continue to change around which vaccines, which boosters and how long ago your vaccine was taken continue to change, be sure to check with your travel agent on the latest requirements before you travel. 

Gulf Reps

Gulf Reps is the leading travel and tourism representation company in the Middle East. With over 60 years of regional and industry experience. Gulf Reps has served clients on six continents delivering transformative results to everyone from hoteliers to tourism boards. Our mix of world-class marketing expertise, PR specialists, unparalleled connections and relationships and eclectic mix of marketing channels makes working with Gulf Reps the only sure way to drive Middle Eastern tourists to your destination.