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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.

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.

What is a travel representation company?

We’re often asked what is a travel representation company? Travel representation companies function as an adjunction between travel agencies and destination(s), airlines and hotel boards driving up conversion rates and generating profitable sales. With a focus on b2b transactions in regional and global markets, they increase the physical and online exposure of travel and tourism operators through a number of means and strategies.

To name a few, travel representation agencies develop and implement marketing strategies that ensure maximum reach to the targeted audience via various marketing channels including digital marketing, e-newsletter, social media platforms and online campaigns. Travel representation companies also attend, organize and manage events that function as valuable links between industry key actors.

Travel representation establishes and fosters relationships with managing partners, oversee account management activities as well as business development, PR support and strategic planning. Additional activities include providing financial reports, KPI monthly reports, media reports and other ancillary documents.

By implementing these methods via adherence to best-practice and innovative ideas, travel representation agents connect key players in the industry with clients to ensure the quality of service and a satisfying experience.

What to look for when selecting a travel representation company?

Several factors come into play when partnering with a travel representation company. Achieving substantial reach and intensifying brand awareness is contingent on a comprehensive understanding of the product, strong knowledge of the market and accurate and effective segmentation.  

The right travel representation agent will act as the face of your company and speak for its interest and objectives while effectively communicating with the involved parties.

Travel representation needs to possess robust market intelligence as deep background and connections in order to build and implement functional strategies that can be studied and evaluated through action plans. 

Travel representation companies need to hold fast to a set of core values including transparency, self-drive and persistence.

Travel representation companies can be evaluated against a number of criteria:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Speed to market
  • All-round market experience 
  • Good connections
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Reputable work portfolio with good quality hotels and SMCs
  • Flexibility and simplicity 
  • Personalised services and adeptness in individualized strategies and boutique marketing 

What values does a travel representation company add to travel and tourism in the middle east?

The unprecedented thrive the middle east has witnessed during the last two years, partially due to covid-19, in various industrial sectors including travel and tourism placed the region as a second-best performer in travel and tourism showing an annual growth rate of 5.3% in 2019. This growth led to many prospects for representation companies.

Travel representation firms can leverage the emergent megacities, large population and the top-tier tourist service infrastructures to bring substantial value to the region exhibited in the growing awareness of the middle east as a sought travel destination and the increasing influx of tourists from key markets such as China and India.

Furthermore, travel representation agencies help expedite the recovery of the region and restore the pre-covid tourist spend in the middle east. 

Travel representation significantly contributed to renowned airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways whereby ranking them on top of the world’s best-performing airlines list in terms of quality of service 

What can Gulf Reps add?

Gulf Reps is a leading and highly regarded travel representation company with far-reaching and extensive experience in the Gulf region and the middle east. Gulf Reps provides a state of the art portfolio of PR and consultancy services as well as strategic and result-driven marketing solutions tailored to deliver individual targets, exceptional outcomes that boost and enhance your presence in the region. Contact us on Tel: +971 (0)4 316 6333, F:+971 (0)4 316 6565, E: sammy@gulfreps.com for any inquiries.