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Wed 17 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

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Pimp my travel agency

Arabian Travel News joined forces with global shop fitting manufacturer and retail design consultancy firm Wanzl to critique the retail space of three major Dubai travel agencies.

Arabian Travel News joined forces with global shop fitting manufacturer and retail design consultancy firm Wanzl to critique the retail space of three major Dubai travel agencies.

For many years travel agents operating in the Middle East have based themselves in offices as opposed to fancy retail spaces, unlike more mature markets, particularly those in the Western World, where competitive High Street travel agencies displayed fancy logos, packed their windows with summer getaway deals and were laden with brochures brandishing pretty pictures of idyllic holiday locations.

But today, the Middle East's travel industry is undergoing a rapid transformation.

It is no longer sufficient for travel agencies to sell airline tickets alone. Challenges posed by the commission-cutting measures taken by airlines plus the direct-sell and online tactics of other travel suppliers have forced agents to diversify.

This has meant selling holidays and tailormade packages and specialising in niche markets.

As this evolution takes place, so too must the way in which travel agents present their products and services to the consumer.

It is no longer sufficient to set-up-shop in a dingy office in Deira and hope that customers will come to you.

The large number of shopping malls springing up all over the region has led to forward-thinking agents - and those with cashed-up owners - to branch out into a new retail format.

Both agencies and operators have snapped-up spaces in sought-after mall locations while many are rolling out ‘holiday shops' in areas close to large clusters of potential leisure travellers.

The idea is that by positioning yourself in a mall, you are guaranteed to lure the crowds due to the high volume of foot traffic these retail havens usually summon.

But are you? Many agencies have opened outlets in malls, but have failed to use their retail space wisely and as a result, are failing to entice customers into their store.

ATN decided it was time to give agencies some hints and tips on how to make the most of their retail space in these prime locations.

Inspired by the well-known MTV series ‘Pimp My Ride', whereby experts revamp or ‘pimp' the cars (the ‘ride') of viewers, giving them a complete facelift, we decided to launch the ‘Pimp my travel agency' initiative.

ATN teamed up with international shop fitting manufacturer and retail design consultancy firm Wanzl Middle East FZE, which has offices based in the Gold & Diamond Park in Dubai, to critique the holiday shops of three local agencies.

With the permission of their managers we selected Al-Futtaim Travel's Mall of the Emirates branch (located on the ground floor opposite Carrefour); Al Rostamani Travel's brand new Dubai Marina branch (located next to the Tamani Hotel on Jumeirah Beach Road); and Sharaf Travel's Ibn Battuta branch (located on the ground floor of the mall next to Géant supermarket).

In order to set the scene, Wanzl key account manager and retail consultant Daniel Cornelissen, Wanzl interior architect designer Golzar Sanganian and the ATN team visited each branch where they took photos, interviewed the managers about what their target markets and what they wanted to achieve and then made notes on each retail outlet according to the following criteria: concept, design elements, functional space, size in square metres, service and customer area, integration of digital and multi-media elements, themes, sustainable design, as well as organic and decorative elements.

In addition, Wanzl asked for extra technical specifications such as floor plans, elevation drawings, lighting and electrical layout and the budget for building and/or revamping.

The results were then discussed and Cornelissen and Sanganian - who for the purposes of this article are referred to as ‘D&G' (Daniel and Golzar) - provided a run-down of the areas of strength and weakness of each travel agency branch. Sharaf Travel, Ibn Battuta

Wanzl says:The Sharaf Travel unit has a consistent brand look and it is very clear from the first moment that there is a concept.

• The travel agency has a rounded feel, reminiscent of planes or airport terminals; you definitely feel a sense of transition as you enter the agency.

• The sliding doors and cabin-style frames continue the aircraft theme and create some useful highlighting for the promotional material.

• The shop front is small but is it used very effectively.

• The interior of the agency is also very small but you never feel cramped, in part due to the way the light is used.

• Colours are neutral and balanced and the brand logo stands out well in this environment.

• All the elements of the design - the customer seating etc - show some careful consideration

Hints and tips:

• There is not enough space allocated for brochures and marketing material. A fixture system is required to display all the product brochures and catalogues.

• The space is a little tight with very little opportunity for handling more business.

• Space planning and a slightly different counter configuration could possibly provide more counter space.

• Additional storage could be housed on the back wall behind the counter with graphics or digital media to create some interest.

• Plants always add a soft touch.

• A digital display with locations offers and promotion could help to bring additional business.

• Some background music as well as some pleasant essential oils could help to improve the ambience even more.

• Sustainable materials and energy efficient light units could further improve this unit. Al-Futtaim Travel

Wanzl says:The travel agency has a very good location in front of Carrefour in Mall of Emirates, but in spite of this there are a few factors that cause the unit to have week visibility and you could easily walk past.

• You easily miss the shop since the front is very bare. The branding is not visible and the agency has a very high ceiling, which is completely empty. The sign board is easily missed.

• The interior visible from the outside appears rather bland and unimaginative.

• Counter back areas are visible from the outside.

• Furniture is very dated.

• Flooring is not meant for high traffic areas as you can witness by the way it has been damaged. The floors are made from a cheap and inappropriate material, which seems in urgent need of a revamp. Greater care should have been taken to select a hardwearing floor surface and the same applies to the counters and wall treatment.

• There is no evident theme in the décor and you do not get a very strong brand association from the agency.

• Having looked at Al-Futtaim's other location in Dubai Festival City, you notice a definite improvement and transition in the design and theme.

• The lack of enough equipment storage and marketing vehicles leave a lot unspoken and many selling opportunities are lost due to the limited ability to communicate the various packages and offers. The walls inside are blank and no place has been left for graphics and promotional materials. There is no additional media or promotional materials are visible so customers are left to use their imaginations when planning their vacation.

Hints and tips:

• The management is considering a conceptual approach reminiscent of island colonial style that would  provide an escapist destination feel to the  agency and provide a real anchor for the brand as a premium getaway  point (sights, smell and sounds of the island life would transport you to the idealistic retreat and entice you to take a trip).

• Digital media could be integrated in the back wall displays. Large LCD or plasma screens could show videos of idyllic destinations and if all else fails, could be switched to the Travel Channel.

• Adding a fixture system to distribute pamphlets and brochures would add value and ensure that even if the travel consultants were busy with a customer, a sales opportunity would not missed because a customer would still be able to grab a brochure with the holiday packages to look at.

• Large graphics with destinations and offers presented in nice frames would also help to liven up the selling options.

• Small LCD screens can be placed at the counters so customers can watch these or be shown through options while they wait for the travel consultants to finalise their bookings etc.

• Some plants and objects in the theme of the agency would help to add to the ambience.

• While discussing the concept with management it was mentioned that a themed concept in island colonial style was under consideration for implementation. Complete with wooden shutters and palm leave awnings, this would really capture the idyllic island feel and invite customers to that great holiday escape. If this was adopted, Al-Futtaim would really stand out against other retail brands, which typically have high-tech shop fronts.

• Inside your senses would be overwhelmed with sights and sounds of island life. Senses are some of the most primal and essential oils and candles can be used to capitalise on this.

• Placing some curios and artifacts throughout the retail space could also create interest and collaborations between tourist boards and the agency could be established. The agency could host mini exhibitions of indigenous art from a destination bringing back a sense of discovery and adventure.

• Better space planning could result in an effective operational space with lots of space for storage and comfort without creating a clutter.

• The use of a sustainable hard wearing materials and energy efficient light systems should be considered since it makes great environmental and cost sense in the long run.

• The light layout should be done by a professional to get the most consistent LUX levels and to create the right blend of atmospheric ambient light and pools of light were visibility is mostly required; this would really give the location character. Al Rostamani Travel

Wanzl says:The Al Rostamani Travel unit is the odd one out of all three locations since it is not based in a shopping centre, but in a standalone community-based unit. The company has very clearly defined goals in terms of the customer demography, which translates into the conceptual design and planning. The agency was still under construction during our first visit so some of the planned developments were not yet visible.

• Material used for the counters, walls and floors reflect the positioning and values of the brand and showed that some planning and investment has gone into the unit.

• The choice of colours and materials are very neutral and will allow for a change in colour scheme or branding. If the corporate identity has to change the unit would be able to change effortlessly.

• Management has considered the use of digital and multi-media in the location such as plasma screens that will show videos of destinations and special promotions or offers.

• There are plans to have a children's play area since the objective of this location is focused on the family travel sector. Creating a friendly family environment will ensure repeat business.

• There has been a lot of effort made with the design of the layout and the space planning is rather good apart from a few niggles such as the counter top height and drawer accessibility, which could be slightly improved.

• While they have not considered the lighting design, some thought has obviously been given to most areas of the design.

• Al Rostamani has a great location as far as visibility goes with large shop frontage facing a very busy road with traffic lights so there will always be a captive audience to receive campaign messages in the window.

Hints and tips:

• The afternoon sun will be a problem and we suggest some protective UV film to reduce the glare and the ambient temperature, which would also lower the energy consumption.

• The area may require some more parking outside in the future since it is a standalone shop and its level of success in gaining strong foot traffic and improving business will be linked to people's ability to reach it.

• Integration of digital media with handheld or screens at the counter would provide additional sales opportunities while customers wait for booking confirmation - instead of staring at the back of a consultant's screen.

• A large ticker showing offers and rates can be placed in the window so any traffic passing at night can see the offers and promotions that are currently available.

• The company should consider creating a theme incorporating some marketing packages to make the brand and product more accessible to the targeted customer group, which is mid- to upper-class families. A mascot or advertising campaign targeting the children would be a great way to launch the brand/agency.

• Plants always create a warmer atmosphere and are a great way to counterbalance sharp architectural edges such as those employed in this agency. The retail landscape

While the Gulf has some of the highest concentrations of brands and retailers on offer in the world you can't help but feel that the franchises and retail in general has become too formulated and only with true innovation do you see the dynamic that creates a truly wonderful brand experience.

Only a few daring companies have developed their own concept and have experienced success with homegrown concepts.

Retailers have to consider all the senses and sensibilities when dealing with clients who have become over-stimulated through the various marketing campaigns and schemes with the daily bombardment of advertising.

Customer loyalty has become increasingly meaningless as consumers keep on searching for that true value brand or experience; that ultimate high that will help them escape the mundane.

Themed environments

These have dominated the retail landscape from as small a space as fashion boutiques to master property retail developments.

Innovative and community-conscious approaches have developed in the realm of male grooming and the ultimate pampering for men is not something frowned upon as in the past as judged by the number of spas and nail treatment boutiques sprouting up all over.

It seems that everyone is quick to tag on to a trend, but so very few are willing to innovate.

So there is move away from the traditional demographics and opportunities for cross merchandising are everywhere.

Sustainability

While the rulers of the UAE have committed to huge improvements in the area of sustainability, the responsibility rests with consumers and retailers to realise such guidance and initiatives.

What is the average green rating of retailers in Dubai?

Why have we not seen a recycling scheme launched? Retailers such as Carrefour and Hyperpanda have started selling reusable bags and are charging for the plastic bags, which is a step in the right direction.

Why are the retailers not educating themselves in the use of energy efficient systems? How difficult is it for a retailer to do some regular introspective and evaluate its performance based against a harsh reality of social conscience rather than financial turnover alone?

We are still building shopping centres with huge ceilings, inefficient light and ineffective insulation.

Organic light-emitting diodes or OLED light uses a little less energy and remains cooler than previous lamps and the ambient temperature in shops are decreased so you require less air conditioning to cool down the shop.

While many of these new systems and ideas are still in developmental stages or expensive to start with, they have real long-term value.We use very few if any, solar panels and we build massive concrete mountains that increase the ambient temperature in the city.

Then, to show that we are thinking about nature, we plant as many plants as possible that require gallons of water and place a strain on the environment.

Service and convenience

The greatest opportunity is definitely in the field of convenience and service - retailers who deliver a neatly packaged offer in a convenient location with ease of access will gain the largest market share.

When was the last time you had to look for parking? Most people are so strapped for time that the convenience and speed in which you are served can make or break a sale.

Light

Most retailers do not pay enough attention to light design and planning and it is probably the single area that can have the most effect on the character and feel of the location, as well as improving the way customers shop. Lighting can create a place of tranquility and generate a cosy atmosphere or be so glaring that your customers leave with a blinding headache.

Conclusion

There will be an increase in cross discipline approaches to design and store planning in the future as more retailers realise that the combination of skills and mentalities required to create the ultimate shop will require more than one approach.

When you work in a dynamic environment like Dubai you usually end up working outside your expected field of expertise so you really have to develop your multi-tasking skills.

Apply your imagination and create a memorable experience - that way you will distinguish your brand as a unique offer in its particular segment.

About Wanzl

Wanzl Middle East FZE is a shopfitting manufacturer/supplier offering the added benefits and services of space planning, retail consultancy and interior design to achieve a retail shop-fitting solution.

Wanzl is one of the world's largest shopping trolley manufacturers and in addition to the shop-fitting division, supplies logistics and passenger handling equipment. The company is a leader in European retail having developed service gates and systems utilizing RFID technology for major retailers. Meet the team

Daniel Cornelissen

Daniel Cornelissen was trained in Fine Art and Graphic Design.

He started his career in retail operations in South Africa before specialising in visual merchandising. Cornelissen boasts nine years' experience in the UAE offering consulting services in visual merchandising, marketing and branding and conceptual design/store planning for several major retailers, international brands and shopping centres.

He is currently a key account manager/retail consultant with Wanzl Middle East FZE.

Golzar Sanganian

Golzar Sanganian attained a bachelor of Italian language in Iran 2002 and first came to Dubai in 2003 to study interior design. She trained with a local decoration company as an interior designer in the residential field for one-and-a-half years while she was studying and also took a short course in design and art in Italy.

Sanganian graduated in 2007 from the American University of Dubai and has for the past year has worked at Wanzl Middle East FZE as an interior designer for retail environments.

Contact:

Wanzl Middle East FZE

Gold & Diamond Park Building 5, Office 110 PO Box 262007 Dubai, UAE

Phone: +971 (0)4 341 8555 Fax: +971 (0)4 341 9595 Email: info@wanzl.ae Visit: www.wanzl.ae

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