Travelwings.com, UAE’s leading online travel agency is reinventing itself to meet the needs of its customers who shop online for travel. “Online travel companies play an important role in helping consumers purchase the right product, at the right fare while offering them multiple choices,” said the company’s CEO and co-founder Albert Fernando.
A pioneer in the industry, Fernando was recently honored the “Most Influential CEO 2022 in the United Arab Emirates” at the CEO Insights 2022.
Fernando started his professional journey in the travel industry at the age of 17. In an industry where the dynamics are constantly evolving and the race among technology companies to bring online travel booking and personalized bundling into mainstream growing, Fernando’s invaluable experiences in the industry have taken Travelwings.com to new heights. Arabiatravelnews.com caught up with him to find out how his vision for Travelwings.com has changed and what lies ahead for the OTA.
“When I started this business, the retail travel landscape was very different. So much has changed since. Flights have become cheaper, flight options abundant, hotels more affordable and destinations more accessible to tourists. The retail side of travel has also changed immensely. Initially content that was published was focused only on price points but now customers want more choice to ‘search and compare’ and the focus is on the entire journey and their most intimate experiences.”
“Understanding our customers, knowing their travel habits, being able to personalize their holiday experience, providing them with unique insights about the destination, are expected add-ons the travel agent must provide. This means we need to build strong strategic partnerships in the industry – whether with technology providers, destinations or airline companies.”
“Another change we’ve seen is that the booking window for travel- be it leisure or business -have shrunk. Last minute holiday plans, demand for short budget trips means travel companies have to be more diligent and on their toes to ensure they continue to offer new and innovative products.”
Headquartered in Dubai since 2016, Travelwings.com has played a crucial role in the tourism growth of the emirate.
“Only in Dubai was recovery possible so quickly and so effectively after the pandemic. The way the pandemic was managed, ensuring safety of the people and their livelihoods, while carefully and cautiously working to bring tourism back, was truly remarkable.
“The UAE has its own Brand Value today. If you look at the global tourism map, the country has one of the highest tourism arrivals since the pandemic. UAE was ranked the second-safest country in the world to travel in 2021 and this was possible only because of its robust health sector and the Covid-19 vaccination campaign that was put in place. All this has helped boost inbound traffic into the country.
“The Expo was a huge factor too. We welcomed 1000s of tourist arrivals to the UAE during the Expo. As a group, our presence across 89 countries helped us contribute immensely towards the success of Dubai Expo. We also expanded the brand Travelwings.com to 32 countries, from six before the pandemic,” he added.
While the region is seeing strong recovery, Fernando adds that they are still not out of the woods. “We are seeing recovery to a great extend even as the mix has changed between corporate vs leisure travel. The numbers are strong but if you look at the recovering from the last two years, there is still catching up to do. We are however, moving in the right direction.”
As the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic ebb, people are traveling with a vengeance. The need to reconnect, explore new destinations, or revisit old favorites, the opportunities are many. Fernando says that there are three kinds of customers in the market right now.
“There are the budget travelers, the niche leisure travelers and the bleisure travelers. The bleisure traveler was a small percentage of travelers in the past but the long hiatus in travel has seen more people add some rest and relaxation post their business trip. Of course the number of business travelers are nowhere near where they were in 2019.”
“Budget travel has seen a huge increase too. The last two Eid breaks in the UAE saw a huge influx of passengers traveling – choosing short, quick and affordable holidays. Destinations across Eastern Europe like Georgia and Turkey have been popular choices. These destinations have been developing new tourism products for the new, post-pandemic customer and that has helped them draw in arrivals.”
“When it comes to the niche travelers; new, unexplored destinations is the popular choice. This opens a completely new segment of destinations for travel agents to sell. We launched packages to Iceland earlier this year and it has been incredibly successful. Travelers are being health and environment conscious, even if it means doing long haul. These destinations may not be completely new but the uptake from the Middle East was previously not so strong,” added Fernando.
New tech enhancements have also been part of the Travelwings.com post-pandemic recovery. “IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) has been a game changer and we are working with the rich content from our partners. We were the first organization (Satguru Travel Group) in the Middle East to bring onboard AirFrance-KLM’s NDC offers. There definitely is an added commercial advantage that we can offer our customers with these NDC offers,” he added.
“The pandemic also saw us investing in new digital innovations and learning from critical moments. We are one of the single-digit-number OTAs in the world, who offer a platform where customers can book and update their PCR tests online. Pcr.travelwings.com was launched in 2020 because we saw the issues faced by our customers. We connected with partners to offer fast-track services, ancillary products including lounge access, to ensure our customers travel safely. We enhanced our tech stack to different levels, allowing more micro-services on our platform, for scalability.”
“We are also focusing a lot on merchandising – we want to offer more relevant services to our customers, outside the travel ecosystem. The ability to cross-sell and up-sell is critical for revenue growth and we hope to add newer services to our product offerings in the near future,” added Fernando.
Travelwings.com recently announced a MoU with Saudi Tourism. “Saudi Arabia has been very strategic and very ambitious with their tourism goals. The transformation that is underway, to change the entire face of the country has been phenomenal. Projects like Neom and The Line, which was recently unveiled, are cities of the future and this has only become possible because of a new generation of visionaries who now in the workforce, bringing to life these extraordinary projects.”
“This is where our partnership comes into place because we have always been a brand that is customer-centric and our goal is to bring in customers for leisure travel into Saudi Arabia. I think once travelers see what is on the ground, the rest will follow. It’s all about conviction. And convincing customers with the conviction we have about the Kingdom’s unique destinations and the quality tourism experiences awaiting them, is what this MOU is all about.”
Looking ahead Fernando says that while travel is picking up, it is also going to be expensive.
“Airlines need to cover up for what they’ve lost over the last couple of years and with the high fuel prices, the burden falls on the fares. The UAE’s Remote work visa is a strategic step towards bringing back talent and expertise to the country. It opens new opportunities within UAE’s state-of-the-art business environment, all of which will attract tourism and therefore tourism revenues.”
“Beyond the Middle East, the focus will always be on emerging markets. That’s where our focus has always been to grow as market leaders.
“My goal is to take our brand across 100+ countries over the next five years,” said Fernando.