Brand View: In CEO Middle East's latest instalment of 'Lessons from Leaders', Alaa Al Ali reveals how he created Nirvana Travel & Tourism, today an industry leader providing travel solutions and services in the region
What’s the story behind your business?
I gained a lot of experience during my career in travel, tourism and hospitality here in the UAE, where the country’s leaders envisioned UAE as a leading tourist destination. I was inspired to create a unique travel and tourism service provider. Nirvana Travel and Tourism’s first office opened in 2007 with two staff. Today, the company has expanded to 40 offices across the UAE and employs more than 400 people. We provide diversified travel and tourism services and solutions to clients including governmental, semi-governmental, private entities in the UAE, regional and global corporations, and retail clients.
If all goes well, where do you see it going in the next five years? The next decade?
We want to revolutionise the travel and tourism industry by investing in technology to enhance the way we provide services. We also want continue expanding our presence globally.
What's the single biggest challenge facing your industry today?
One of the biggest challenges that any service provider faces is the ability to remain up to date with evolving client requirements. We treat it as a motivational driver to ensure that our services are up to date with global standards. This is being done by continuously investing in our human capital through training and exposure to global practices, along with research and development of technology.
Where do great ideas come from in your organisation?
It’s about the passion within our team. The team is responsible for all our creative ideas. We have a pool of professionals that keep a keen eye on trends and this helps us stay relevant and innovative. We participate in travel trade shows locally and internationally to develop strong partnerships. These enable us to deliver great concepts and experiences.
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organistion?
The friendly environment that we created at Nirvana Travel and Tourism encourages creative thinking and innovation. Each professional is given the independence and space to share their vision and lauded when they are successful. I am committed to spreading the concepts of happiness, productivity and sincerity to our team of more than 400 employees, and they in turn are committed to exercising skill, care and diligence.
What is the most important in your company – its mission, core values or vision?
A successful mission is based on a vision with strong core values. I believe true success lies in being able to respect and create a harmony with all three. At Nirvana Travel & Tourism, our mission, core values and vision complement each other. Our mission depicts our past; it fortifies our foundation. Our vision represents the future; it is what we see in our horizon. Our present is portrayed through our core values as it depicts our journey. Needless to say, this is why it is crucial that we adhere to all three.
What's your decision-making process?
Any major decision making within Nirvana is presented to the team and brainstorming to implementation include the expertise of different professional backgrounds. Brainstorming sessions are crucial and it is my deepest conviction that every single team member adds value. Once all decision-related ideas are proposed, we evaluate the best options and I base my decisions accordingly.
Do you believe social networking has impacted your organisation or yourself, personally?
Absolutely, social networking has played an essential role in both my personal and professional career. In my opinion, social networking is very important for any service provider in terms of exchange of information and expertise, and in addition it opens a window for new business opportunities.
What do you enjoy the most about working at your company?
The ability to be creative and innovative in providing travel and tourism services to our clients, which results in positive feedback and high levels of customer satisfaction.
Can you name a person who has had an impact on you as a leader?
My Father, Dr. Samir Al Ali. I always saw his loyalty, precision and due care in how he practiced his profession with his patients for over 40 years. Seeing that commitment and how it led to patient loyalty towards him, he was able to embed within me the inspiration of practicing my profession with care. This was the main inspiration behind our motto, ‘The Meaning of True Care’.
What is the most important decision you've ever had to make for your company?
The decision to venture into new regional and global markets was one of the most important decisions I took. Exploring new markets has its own challenges that many service users don’t see, such as new market industry knowledge, existing competition, and many trade barriers that could make this one of the biggest and most important decisions I had to make. However, I do believe that success doesn’t come within the comfort zone.
What would you say to a new employee about the culture of your organisation?
At Nirvana Travel & Tourism, we welcome employees into our family with one aim; working harmoniously towards the same goal which is providing the very best for our clients. Good is not good enough. To stand out from the rest, we aspire for excellence in all facets of our company.
What are three characteristics that you believe every leader should possess?
There are many characteristics a leader should possess. But personally, the most important ones are accountability, passion, the ability to inspire others, and decision making.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
I would advise any leader to lead by example due to the simple fact that his actions will set the general standard for all his team members.
What's your greatest fear in business?
My greatest fear in business is that I will become fearful. If the clarity of your thoughts and vision is shrouded in fear, then success quickly becomes unachievable. Doubt and incompetency is like a plague for growth.
What's the best way to prepare for uncertainty?
You can never predict the future. However, you can be ready by ensuring that your current infrastructure is ready to withstand what may come your way. For example, it is important to have insight into the economy. It is also essential to consistently review performance to ensure the business is addressing changing dynamics. Whether in dire times, especially during the times when the economy is teetering, or a lack of resources, or changes in demand, healthy business relationships can help you weather the storm.
What's one productivity tip you wish everyone else knew?
The culture you embed within your team that will enable them to work together in harmony. I believe that setting a harmonious culture in a team will positively impact productivity.
What is your most prized possession?
I would rather not call it a possession, but what I consider priceless is my family, my team, and my ambition.
What is the biggest luxury in your life?
The trust I gained from all of Nirvana’s stakeholders.
What makes you get out of bed each day?
The desire to achieving more in order to reach my goals.
Quote to live your life by?
Impossible is Nothing – Muhammad Ali
If you could give an old boss one piece of advice, what would it be?
I have been blessed with managers who exemplified leadership qualities. In this industry, you encounter different personalities and it is a necessity to assimilate to your surroundings. It is a humbling experience to work for your senior manager; you must exude patience, support and respect. So I believe instead of advising my old boss, I would actually like to take the opportunity to thank him for the advice they gave me.
What do you work toward in your free time?
I like to expand and update my knowledge by reading about emerging trends in the industry and how market leaders are evolving their service lines to match the demands of travel and tourism clients.
What did you want to be growing up?
A benchmark at what I do.
How do you manage a large company and still find time for things like family?
My family is who I turn to at the end of the day. They recharge me for the next day. I am not productive without my daily dose of family time. When this is the reality, spending time with my family is not an option; it is a necessity. So I am never faced with the dilemma of having to find time because I am accustomed to having that balance.
How do you relax and switch off from the office?
I don’t. Every time you relax or switch off, you fall behind in the race.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I begin with handling internal matters in the office, once that is done, I begin addressing external matters. It is normal that I receive ad-hoc requests during the day, so I need to make sure those are properly addressed and looked into.
Do you have any daily rituals that help prepare you for the day?
Skimming through the newspapers while enjoying my morning coffee.
Finish this sentence, "the world would be a better place if only….”
Everyone embraced change, progress and advancement for a better tomorrow.
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