Since the Covid pandemic, ATS Travel Management Company, a pioneer travel solutions company with offices in UAE and KSA, have reinvented their business model as they introduce new elements like their new AI-enabled booking system, more bespoke and experiential holidays or raise their sustainable goals to ensure they achieve their net zero targets as well as help their customers reduce the impact of travel and contribute to the long-term growth of the industry.
ArabiaTravelNews.com spoke to Saleem Sharif, Dy. Managing Director, ATS Travel to find out more about business in this new post-pandemic era and why sustainable travel is key for the next generation of travelers.
Q: How is business at ATS Travel ? What are your key focus areas and why?
After having suffered for more than two years due to the pandemic, we have done very well during 2022. In fact, we have been able to achieve our 2019 FY numbers by October 31, itself – in terms of Revenue and Sales. This we understand is due to higher coupon value and change in business models post pandemic. Apart from Corporate sales, our focus areas have been Luxury holidays, Logistics, MICE, Visa services and Agents Support Unit.
We have always been a TMC focused on Corporate sales & MICE and that has continued. We have seen an opportunity for promoting luxury bespoke holidays as we saw a huge segment of our customers were not averse to paying premium price for traveling to safe destinations with private transfers, luxury hotels and personalized service. We started logistics business during pandemic which caters to trucking of goods with the GCC and Levant and we have seen this grow successfully.
Q: What have been the key enablers to help the company plan forward?
Innovation, reinventing business models, creating timely dynamic business strategies, delegating, believing in our human assets and getting their participation in all decision making processes have been our key enablers to help us plan forward.
Q: NDC has been a game changer for the industry in the last couple of years. How have you adapted to this new normal?
We are in the process of plugging in NDC content from 26 airlines through a third-party solution provider and we should have them linked to our booking platform by second quarter of 2023. I wouldn’t call NDC a game changer in the last couple of years, as the industry is yet to see adoption of NDC in a manner that the airlines would have liked to see. This is a huge topic that can be debated for hours together with no solution or rationale to be found in front of us. The main reason to start NDC was to allow airlines the flexibility to merchandise the products and services to enable the customers to see the product differentiation and then decide to buy what they want, resulting in transparency between the airline and the customer. Greater direct contact between the airlines and the customer is also one of the reasons to introduce NDC.
For the travel trade, IATA says, the reason to roll out NDC was to enable them to sell ancillary products and make incremental revenue. I would ask, what stopped the airline from doing it even now through the traditional distribution channel of GDS? Why this new invention which has not seen the light of the day and from what I see, will take a long time, effort and money to become successful.
Q: What new tech enhancements have you brought onboard and what lies ahead for the company?
We have rolled out our “state-of-the-art” booking system developed in-house that ensures an easy, seamless journey from the front to mid and back office. This has become a ‘one stop shop’ for our team to offer the best in terms of products and services at the lowest price found in the market place. We have used AI and ML extensively in this tool to ensure we are dynamic and efficient in product offering in the market place. This has been rolled out in the market place too under the brand name travelclub.ae.
We have drawn up an ambitious plan and earmarked considerable amount of funds to develop our technology capabilities in the coming 3 years. We have many new solutions in the pipeline that will revolutionize the way we serve our customers. We are the only independently owned company in the region to be the resellers of SAP Concur Travel solution, where we have the capability to not only sell the solution, but to implement it at our clients location quickly.
Q: Tell us about your sustainability partnership with Amadeus? How important is sustainability when it comes to your business practices and why?
As a TMC, ATS handles over 500 corporate clients and this gives us a unique opportunity to help our clients address the carbon footprint that is inevitably caused through the various elements of travel like air, land, hotel and more. We launched our sustainability program “ATS GO GREEN” which primarily helps each of our client with a scientific report on their carbon footprint covering all the elements mentioned earlier. We don’t stop there we also offer our clients gold standard verified offsetting opportunities across the globe, in turn helping each of our client reaches their sustainable goals. This initiative was launched to the clients and the market in partnership with Amadeus, whose sustainability visions resonates with ours.
Amadeus as our partner provides us with raw data on travel for all our clients and we are hoping to work together closely in more upcoming ventures.
ATS has aligned our business models with Sustainable goals and have brought sustainability to the core of our vision and mission. We believe that sustainable behavior needs to be widely adopted in organizations and deeply integrated into how we work and travel. There has been a gradual but positive culture shift at ATS where each one takes responsibility for their own behavior and their impact on carbon emissions.
Q: The pandemic has changed travel and people are now increasingly looking for brands that can deliver them more personalized, seamless, sustainable trips, be it business or leisure – How do you cater to this new-age traveler?
ATS has always strongly believed and have also been at the forefront when it comes to technology being a vital factor in serving today’s travelers. We also have partnered across the globe with a variety of suppliers to cater to all our clients needs. We started experiencing a demand for these things prior to Covid itself with a lot of millennial’s travelling. Some of the partnerships we have specialize in Luxury travel for both leisure and business, we offer sustainable options to clients, contactless and seamless options. All this is made possible due to the extensive research and identifying the right kind of partners.
For example, although branded supply does exist in several leisure destinations, offbeat and unexplored locations are not favored by branded hotel developers. This white space, therefore, is now being occupied by alternate accommodation options and this kind of experiential travel is not limited to the budget or mid-market segments but luxurious ones as well.
Q: How can travel agents/ frontline sellers drive sustainable change? How can you work towards reducing the environmental impact that customers make on their journeys?
As a travel partner our aim is to enable our clients to reduce the impact of travel emissions without restrictions to their daily business. What we are aiming to do is to provide a better understanding of the sources of their Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with which travelers will be able to make sound choices to reduce their carbon footprint and also various offsetting opportunities through our ATS GO GREEN program.
Apart from this we are providing travel vouchers to all our client for their bookings showcasing the CO2 footprint on their travels. We offer car hire that meets high sustainability standards and low-carbon and sustainable hospitality and accommodation options to clients that is certified to recognized sustainability standards.
Through our leisure department we are promoting sustainable tourism by offering packages where our clients can go and participate in sustainable activities in destinations that are promoting the same.
We are also in the process to start Regenerative tourism where our clients travel with a mindset to leave a destination better than it was before they arrived, and experiences go beyond a traditional vacation.
Q: What are your strategic priorities within and outside the UAE for the next 12 months?
ATS is already extensively active in markets such as India, KSA and other GCC countries. We are now currently focusing due to large business requirements from clients to branch out in France in the next year. As a group we also have ventured into other verticals such as logistics and B2B portals. We also will be launching our B2C leisure and holiday interface to the market shortly.
Q: Are you seeing a high level of confidence from business travelers? What are your predictions for corporate travel in 2023?
The industry is showing positive indicators and sentiment for 2023, a strong sign as business travel continues to come back over time. As mentioned earlier we have already seen numbers reach pre pandemic level with our clients. Although the requirements of the travelers are changing, bar any economic disruptions Business travel will be higher next year compared to 2022.
According to the October 2022 Business Travel Recovery Poll released by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), business travel respondents expect more recovery and growth for 2023 compared to this year. This reinstates our expectations and predictions for travel next year.