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“Execution is king.” — CEO Q+A: Niel Alobaidi, Managing Director UK and Ireland with Emirates Holidays

By Business & Finance
03 October 2018
Niel Alobaidi, Managing Director UK and Ireland with Emirates Holidays

In our next CEO Q&A, Niel Alobaidi, Managing Director UK and Ireland with Emirates Holidays speaks about unpredictability, launching in the Irish market and scaling the business. 

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

The overriding objective of my role is to build long term growth for the Emirates Holidays business in both Ireland and the UK. Emirates Holidays is relatively new to the Irish market having launched in June. Readers in Ireland will be familiar with our airline partner Emirates of course so another priority in my role lies in strategically supporting the overall Emirates brand proposition within these source markets.

At a high level the main measure for this is how well we support Emirates airline in delivering against their commercial ambitions, and our goals tend to be primarily centred around this, both in the short and longer term.

At a more micro level, however, my priorities can (and do) change a lot week to week, especially as we have been fortunate enough to see significant growth for over three years now – ironically this success in itself constantly creates new and interesting challenges.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Our biggest challenge in the last few years has probably been in taking the time to ensure we’re constantly building a robust and scalable operating model, as we’ve been growing so quickly. It’s always very tempting to keep chasing opportunities by implementing fast but relatively short term solutions to problems, however this only builds up potential problems down the line and can very quickly unravel.

We’re particularly proud that we have managed to keep the growth going for so long – much of this is down to planning, however without everyone across the business digging in and going the extra mile when we have faced a tough challenge, then all the planning in the world would not have got us to where we are.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Employee satisfaction is one of the most important factors in the success of any business. It goes without saying that you need to have a fun and open environment, but in my experience the real key to staff motivation is everyone having a very clear understanding of the goals of the organisation, and also how they each have a level of direct ownership for our performance against these goals.

We make a point of communicating the business strategy regularly, and in different ways, and always share clear objectives. The broader team is included in the generation of new initiatives to deliver against the strategy, and it is the role of each manager to keep the idea generation process front of mind within their teams.

We also regularly measure staff satisfaction through Employee Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, and are very open with the feedback, particularly where it suggests we’re not as good as we could be. We ask everyone in the business to be part of coming up with ways to improve these areas.

In summary we put a lot of trust in all our employees, at all levels of the business, and have been rewarded with a truly amazing team of highly engaged people who are always willing to go out of their way to support each other.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Clearly the current high levels of unpredictability within the economic environment is an ongoing significant risk for everyone, however I think the biggest challenge going forward probably sits within technology and IT. New functionality is changing so quickly that it’s increasingly difficult to know which direction to take when trying to be innovative and create differentiation, but if you don’t constantly invest you can very quickly lose ground on competitors. Correctly picking the right opportunity at the right time can single-handedly be the difference between success and failure, but this is much easier said than done.

That said (and I know this is a cliché) we genuinely see these areas as also providing the biggest opportunities for Emirates Holidays. Businesses that have the flexibility to adapt best to new risks and opportunities, and that are also comfortable within a constantly changing environment should always be able to succeed. The more challenging the environment, the greater these opportunities are for a business that is in the right place to take advantage.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

The world is definitely getting smaller and at the same time people are becoming more adventurous. This means that travelling to some of the more far flung destinations, which 10-20 years ago may have been seen as a bit more of a special ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday, is increasingly becoming much more normal.

This trend is also lending itself to an increasing demand for experiences – there’s clearly still a highly valued appreciation of spending a week recharging the batteries on the beach, but at the same time more and more people want to combine this with seeing or trying new things.

For Emirates Holidays, with our unique relationship with the award-winning Emirates Airline, connecting Ireland to a network of over 160 destinations in more than 80 countries across the globe, this is clearly an opportunity going forward.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

As mentioned earlier, the industry is actually changing so quickly at the moment that a little bit of stability might be quite refreshing, particularly from a technology perspective. However I don’t think that’s the way of the world anymore so we may as well embrace it and enjoy the ride!

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Generally we do pretty well with recruitment, which is supported by an incredibly low level of staff attrition – within our back office team in the UK we’ve actually only had one leaver in three years, and even they moved internally within the Group.

That said, it does sometimes feel like we are constantly working to keep up with our ever-growing demand for good web developers, business analysts and project managers.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We actually only launched Emirates Holidays in Ireland earlier this year, so were fortunate to miss the worst of these challenges in this market.

However if we look at what we did in the UK over this period, we concentrated a lot on leveraging our position as one of the strongest brands in international travel, with a focus on providing consumer confidence in our offering at a time when there was a lot of uncertainty.

This was then complemented by a lot of work ensuring we provided a differentiated level of service across all customer touch points and also in providing clear added value in our holidays, which helped in significantly increasing our customer retention levels.

This high level of service has now embedded itself into our overall proposition, and is a key area where we believe we provide something different to most of our competitors.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

I think the biggest immediate risk is the uncertainty it is creating which is definitely affecting our planning, especially in the UK which is particularly impacted by the fall of the exchange rate of the Pound.

For the longer term, it is still extremely hard to predict what the impact will be to long haul travel in any European market, as I don’t think anybody really knows yet what Brexit will actually mean.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

For me, success can manifest itself in many ways – it could be consistently exceeding our budget targets, seeing Emirates Holidays win awards voted by our customers, improving staff satisfaction scores or even just clearing my never ending ‘to do’ list.

However, I also measure my personal success from the perspective of a good work/life balance. I have a young family and it’s hugely important to me that I still find time for my children.

To this point, I would say that true success is being able to properly balance and deliver on both these fronts.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Execution is king – you can do all the innovating and strategising in the world but it’s worth nothing if you don’t deliver at the end of it.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Without a doubt, it’s been the successful launch of Emirates Holidays in the Irish market. It’s taken a lot of hard work and planning, and whilst we still have much to learn about the market, we’re already seeing sales growing and we’re looking forward to building Destination Dubai in the Irish market. Dubai is becoming increasingly popular as a holiday destination among travelers from Ireland, so a large focus of ours is creating tailor-made holiday packages to suit the varying needs of our customers, including family friendly options.

Q. What’s next for your company?

It’s only been a few months since we entered the Irish market, and we still have lots planned to continue our growth here. At the same time, we’re also using some of our learnings from our Irish launch to look at how we can potentially introduce an Emirates Holidays proposition to other source markets on the European continent.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

After successfully introducing Australasia and Indochina as new destinations earlier this year, we are already in the process of planning the launch of several other new destinations. Much of this will be built around more of a touring and multi-centre offering, and should support Emirates Airline in its ongoing route expansion whilst also benefitting from the increasing demand we’re seeing for experiential holidays.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

It would be an amazing achievement to continue enjoying the same levels of growth in both Ireland and the UK that we’ve seen in the last year, and this is where we will be focusing most of our energy.

At the same time, if it’s possible to do without creating too much distraction, it would also be great to see the successful launch of Emirates Holidays in one or two other new European source markets.

The world is definitely getting smaller and at the same time people are becoming more adventurous.

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