Sharjah Airport Travel Agency (SATA) general manager, Hossam Talaat, discusses the benefits of working for a UAE-based government affiliated company and competition challenges.
ATN: When did you join the travel industry?
I started in 1977 after I graduated from college. Ever since I have worked in different markets, starting with Cairo, which is my homeland.
ATN: How does working in the UAE differ from other places?
When you feel that the infrastructure of a country is mainly focused towards the travel industry in general, you feel good about it. When you see that the first low cost carrier in the entire Middle East and North Africa comes from the UAE, you feel good about it. When you see that Emirates Airlines is such a success story and the main airline manufacturing companies consider it an important client, you feel good about it.
ATN: What are the challenges associated with working in the UAE?
There is rapid growth in the area, which is attracting many people from all over, so you have to cope with theses challenges.
You have to look at the competition, not just internally, but internationally also. If you look at Russian tourists for example, people are comparing the UAE and, say, Egypt as a destination.
There is fierce competition between countries to attract emerging markets.
ATN: Why is the Russian market so important?
Russia is considered to be an emerging market. The CIS market is also key. We can tell by the percentage of these nationalities staying in the hotels in relation to the occupancy that it is growing fast. Kazakhstan in particular is booming, since Astana and Almaty are currently served by Air Arabia. When an airline serves a destination it helps [us attract new customers].
Ukraine, Belarus and St Petersburg in the Western part of Russia are also important drivers.
The Chinese market is another rapidly emerging market; we know that the Chinese are travelling all over, so the competition is fierce as well. In spite of that, I feel good about the results we are achieving, and I like being in such a challenging environment.
ATN: What has helped position Sharjah as a popular business and leisure destination?
Air Arabia has definitely helped. We try to promote the airport as a transit point, not just a final destination. People can come from somewhere like Muscat, connect here, and then go to Beirut, Alexandria, or Istanbul for example, which is a gateway to Europe. Other low cost carriers operate from there to the rest of Europe [also from Sabiha Gökçen Airport, Istanbul’s secondary airport].
This is now the trend in Europe. If you are talking about continental travel, Brits, for example, are flying more with easy- Jet than British Airways, and with Ryanair more than Aer Lingus. These low-cost carriers are making more profit than the legacy airlines. Nowadays, everybody is saving.
ATN: On what aspects of its business will SATA focus in 2007?
We are starting to target inbound MICE business.
We already know there are two prime markets, Germany and Russia, and that is why we are keen to look at new [source] markets like the UK. We are quite keen to attract tour operators to come and see the emirate themselves.
We try to arrange for fam trips, and we try to encourage the charter operators to check out the new-look Sharjah Airport for themselves.