Arabian Travel News Award Winners

Exclusive interviews with all our award winners

Munirathnam Munusami, IT systems executive.
Munirathnam Munusami, IT systems executive.
Mailane Fuentes Kindica, Office manager.
Mailane Fuentes Kindica, Office manager.
Rajshree Raj, Supervisor.
Rajshree Raj, Supervisor.
Abeer Ahmed, Sales supervisor.
Abeer Ahmed, Sales supervisor.
Tim Waddell, Director of marketing.
Tim Waddell, Director of marketing.
Fatima Barbosa, Operations manager.
Fatima Barbosa, Operations manager.
Mohammed Al Hashimi, Dnata Travel
Mohammed Al Hashimi, Dnata Travel
Aiden Walsh, Prime Travel.
Aiden Walsh, Prime Travel.
Iain Andrew, Divisional senior vice president, Dnata Travel Services.
Iain Andrew, Divisional senior vice president, Dnata Travel Services.
Naz Naziri, Senior vice president, EmQuest.
Naz Naziri, Senior vice president, EmQuest.

IT person of the year
Munirathnam Munusami
IT systems executive, Al Rais Travel

Munirathnam was chosen for the impressive achievement of consistently delivering innovative IT solutions, connecting up all the company’s 22 branches to a single network, ensuring the network was fully secured as well his efforts to continually develop his own skills as an IT manager.

ATN: What new initiatives you have introduced at Al Rais in terms of technology?
Recently, with the immense support of our management our team successfully developed the biometric attendance system.

The mechanism is devised so that all branches, including remote locations are connected to a centralised attendance monitoring programme at head office level. Staff movements can now be traced on real time basis.

ATN: How have you tried to develop your own skills to become a good IT manager?
I have personally enrolled myself for all the industry-related seminars, crash courses, refresher courses and newsletters. Recently I finished a six-month diploma organised by CISCO Dubai.

ATN: What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Like any other I.T professional the biggest challenge is always to reduce the link downtime to a minimum to ensure productivity levels remain unaffected. Our set up includes remote connections which tend to develop bugs. The challenge is to keep the ticketing going while dealing with these issues.

ATN: What is the most rewarding aspect of your role as IT manager?
In today’s world every skilled human invariably depends on a machine to deliver what is expected out of him.

When I.T fails all others in the chain have a drastic fall on effect. I personally feel dejected when the systems fail to support the frontline. Our support team works hard to keep things on track and when we achieve the least possible TAT (Turn Around Time) better than industry standards it is an achievement in itself.

ATN: How did you feel about winning the Arabian Travel News Award?
I really appreciate the efforts taken by the ATN team to introduce this concept. It is like a dream come true for me. Until this date nobody in the industry used to talk about the back-end departments.

Sales and marketing have always been in the limelight. ATN has done a fantastic job by shifting the focus to the backbones of the frontline. Myself and my team are extremely happy with this achievement, we now feel the industry realises our relevance. I would like to thank the entire team of ATN as they gave us the opportunity to display our potential. This recognition has drastically boosted our morale.

Agency newcomer of the year
Mailane Fuentes Kindica
Office manager,
Instant Travel & Tourism

Awarded to someone from a new-to-market agency, Mailane was recognised for being an exceptional individual who continually looks for ways to help out her colleagues and the company. She is motivated by doing what is best for her team and goes beyond the call of duty in her role.

ATN: Can you tell us a bit about your career background?
I started my career in Bahrain in the travel industry and in 1996 I moved to Dubai. From 2003 I worked at Avionic as an outbound manager and then I took on my most challenging role at Golden Crown Travel & Tourism as general manager. Last year I decided to leave and take on this role at Instant Travel & Tourism.

ATN: What attracted you to the position at Instant Travel and Tourism?
I took on the role because I felt that I could contribute my knowledge and gain more experience knowing that the company was brand new and I would have to start from scratch once again.

ATN: What do you love most about your job in the travel industry?
I love travelling, getting to know your partners and suppliers and knowing that you delivered to your clients’ need and made them happy – that’s what’s important to me.

ATN: What is your ambition for the future?
To have my own company one day.

ATN: How did you feel about winning the Arabian Travel News Award?
I am very flattered that after so many years in the industry there is somebody believing in my capability. Thank you very much for this opportunity. it is my pleasure to receive your award.

Corporate sales agent of the year
Rajshree Raj
Supervisor, Alshamel International

Rajshree is regularly commended for her top-class customer service. She shows exemplary leadership skills, always motivating her team and finding time to work through any weaknesses. The judges felt her deserving of this award for her positive attitude and commitment to her clients.

ATN: What has been the biggest achievement in your career so far?
Two and half years ago I was given the opportunity to transfer from a smaller market, Kuwait and take a leap into the region’s largest market Dubai. When I arrived I not only had to lead the team but compete with Dubai’s largest corporate giants where we faced many challenges.

But striving to achieve the goals you set yourself is the real achievement to me. Seeing our operation succeed and grow in leaps and bounds over the past few years has been very rewarding.

ATN: How do you deliver a good level of service to your customers?
Our company motto says “because travel is personal” which is a great mantra for our staff to live by. In our team, I always encourage my colleagues to work with this in mind, trying to service every customer how they would like to be serviced themselves. This attitude always helps to keep the service top notch and is very efficient for our customers, offering a personal touch.

ATN: What qualities are essential to being a successful travel agent?
Of paramount importance is the ability to build good rapport with your customers. They should feel comfortable and confident that their needs are well taken care of. Building relationships and networking within our industry takes you a long way. There are always challenges and knowing a useful contact can turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’!

ATN: How did you feel about winning?
Winning this award has been such a great feeling. It is the first one I have won outside of our internal company evaluation programme. This is something that gives you recognition in the travel industry.

Leisure sales agent of the year
Abeer Ahmed
Sales supervisor, Dnata Travel

Abeer was chosen for her exceptional achievements in generating business. She individually achieved 88 percent of the Dnata Holiday counter target last year. Her destination knowledge is her key to success and she travels on her own time and expense to learn more, as well as carrying out hotel inspections for her clients.

ATN: How do you deliver a consistently good level of service to your customers?
I believe in life-long learning. I educate myself by joining either personal or company organised fam trips to various leisure destinations. I spend a great deal of time visiting tourist attractions, inspecting hotels, evaluating excursions, tours, cruises and meeting appointed local representatives.

I always use my experience to earn customers trust and confidence that their vacation arrangements have been thoroughly and professionally organised.

ATN: What’s been the biggest challenge you have faced?
I was appointed to the reservation and ticketing counter in Dnata in 2005, and as there was no official holiday counter at that time, I had to prove myself to the management which I successfully achieved.

This persuaded the company to have an official holiday counter. In five years I have managed to build an excellent reputation for myself as well as the holiday counter, and can proudly say that I have been recognised as the best leisure travel consultant in Dnata Travel Services.

ATN: What initiatives have you brought in to motivate and encourage your staff?
I make sure that different motivational activities are exercised to build staff morale and encourage them to achieve their targets. As a result this year our Holiday Team exceeded its annual target by +30 percent. In my opinion the most important step to motivate staff is to build confidence, trust and serve our clients efficiently.

ATN: How did you feel about winning?
I was proud and delighted. This achievement is my first step to be recognised in the Arabian travel market. It is also a high recognition for my hard work and dedication over the last 19 years in the travel industry including five years in Dnata Travel.

ATN: What is your biggest achievement?
One year after joining Dnata I was promoted to a sales/reservation supervisor. This was received in recognition of my exceptional work in increasing the outlet’s sales, revenue and customer retention. My second achievement was when I received my 1st Najm - a merit award in 2007 for outstanding achievement in revenue generation in leisure department. To add to this recently I was rewarded with my 2nd Najm - a silver award for excellent sales skills, dedication and professionalism.

Marketing manager of the year
Tim Waddell
Director of marketing, Alshamel International

Tim infuses passion into everything he does. His campaigns have not only seen the light of day but exceeded their objectives. The judges felt Tim deserved the award for his unrelenting work in elevating the value of the Alshamel brand.

ATN: What has been your career highlight?
If I had to pick one moment it would be the company’s 2007 ATM party at Emirates Towers. I created an audio-visual presentation documenting our rapid growth with an atmospheric soundtrack. Standing on stage I felt a huge surge of pride at what I had helped build.

Looking out into the audience and seeing our senior management team equally absorbed reminded me why I love marketing. It is about turning something that is ultimately about profit into something that elicits an emotional response. In that brief moment I forgot the deadlines, the long nights and ROI scorecards and got swept along in the crescendo of percussion.

ATN: What are the biggest challenges?
In the current climate, budget is the biggest challenge. Marketing is an expensive business and travel is a low margin industry so there’s an ongoing battle to achieve maximum results from very little.

I work with a very small team that all learn fast the definition of ‘hyper-tasking’. What adds to the frustration is the myriad requests we receive for event participation and sponsorship that arrive with just a week’s notice. When you’re trying to manage a marketing budget it’s almost impossible to react to such last minute requests.

ATN: What are the qualities needed to be a good marketing manager?
You need to be a good people person as you are dealing with internal customers and external suppliers. And most important, you have to have an eye for detail. It’s the detail that lets so many companies in this region down.

Spelling mistakes and typos, poor quality output – to me these reflect badly on your brand as they suggest you don’t care. And if you don’t care then why should the customer feel you care about them?

ATN: What do you find most rewarding?
The marketing team is the ‘face’ of the company. To some that might suggest it’s all superficial beauty. But they say the eyes are the window to the soul. This is especially true in marketing. It is about honestly reflecting what is at the heart of your company. Working towards building and delivering a brand, is what drives me every day.

ATN: How did you feel about winning?
I was thrilled to just be nominated as the nomination came from a member of my team and that meant a great deal to me. Winning was fantastic and the response from colleagues has been simply amazing.Being told you are doing a good job always means a lot. Being recognized among your peers in the region is unbelievable and while I am sure there are really many worthy marketing managers in travel companies across the Gulf I am proud to say that, this year, the trophy is mine!

I would like to applaud Arabian Travel News not just for organizing this celebration of our industry’s talent but also so for making it more than just a popularity contest based on public votes as many of the other regional travel awards have become.

Branch manager of the year
Fatima Barbosa
Operations manager, Dnata Travel

Fatima impressed for her staff motivation techniques. As a manager she believes everybody has talents and it is up to her to encourage these among her staff. Her key to running a successful branch is to get the very best out of her team which she achieves through coaching, development, communication and feedback.

ATN: What are you most proud of?
Three years ago, I was asked to take over a multinational account which was facing plenty of service issues. It took over four months to win the trust of the travel manager and the staff. I worked closely with the Dnata team late into the evenings to sort out the problems.

Processes were put in place to improve and optimise our services in all areas. The then SVP-Dnata acknowledged and recognised the work I had put in and thanked me for it. My only regret leaving CRM was letting go of this company with whom I had formed a strong bond of trust.

ATN: How do you deliver a consistently good level of service to your customers?
Good customer service is the lifeblood of any business. For any business to be successful, the customer should be happy. My team is often reminded that even though we are not perfect, we can work together to deliver the experience for our customers that cements our service in their minds.

ATN: What initiatives have you brought in to try to motivate your team?
As branch manager, I motivate the staff by communicating a vision of what Dnata and Emirates group stands for; ensuring the work is challenging; establishing a friendly work environment; having flexible working practices so that targets are achievable and delegating tasks and allowing others in the team to take responsibility.

ATN: What are the biggest challenges in your role and how do you overcome these?
The biggest challenge is when other travel agents offer short-term discounts. Many agents offer more that the stipulated commissions to win a client, engage in cross border selling, or sometimes use dubious ways to win accounts.

When my consultants come across such a situation, they get very frustrated. It is at times like these that I maintain good customer service goes a long way in keeping a customer. If you can bring value in what you do for clients you will win them over. We need to be more focused, have more self-belief and determination instead of giving in to silly doubts and fears.

ATN: How did you feel about winning the Arabian Travel News Award?
I was pleasantly surprised winning the Arabian Travel News Award. Winning the award meant getting recognition for my work not only from Dnata but from the travel industry in the UAE. I am inspired and motivated in working to the best of my ability for the department and for Dnata.

Corporate travel agency manager of the year
Mohammad Al Hashimi
Dnata Travel

Mohammad was recognised for his leadership qualities, management skills, attention to detail and commiment. He has restructured his department, transforming it into one of the most efficient in the company by identifying the need for a ‘corporate cell’ to better cater to the demands of niche coporate clients.

ATN: What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
Living in a country as dynamic and progressive as the UAE, we always strive to raise the bar in terms of service standards and product delivery to meet the progression of the UAE. This is always an exciting challenge.

ATN: What are you most proud of?
One of my proudest moments is that we were able to change the Government of Dubai’s employees’ view of Dnata from being a ticketing company to a complete travel management company that caters to their every travel need. We secured more than 90 percent of their business through great customer service.

I also take pride in the creation of a ‘corporate cell’ that caters to the needs of niche corporate clientele with challenging demands and provides them with efficient customer service.

ATN: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Having a manager like Abdulla Tawakul who constantly provides me a platform for continuous learning and over achievement is very rewarding. By challenging and encouraging me to think out of the box I know everyday that passes is an opportunity to work on my personal growth. It is also rewarding knowing I have a team that trusts me to lead them and provides me with dedication and support.

ATN: What key qualities are needed to succeed in the travel industry?
To succeed in the travel industry you should have passion, great communication skills, enthusiasm, flexibility, quick thinking, strong work ethics, and show initiative.

ATN: How did you feel about winning the Arabian Travel News Award?
Winning the Arabian Travel News Award is a great privilege and honour. I am proud to have won this award and very proud to say that this would not have been possible without the support of my hardworking and dedicated team.

ATN: How do you make sure you deliver a consistently high level of service?
Our customers are very important to us. We always strive to exceed expectations. Our great customer service is attributed to maintaining a close relationship with all our clients, a comprehensive understanding of the local market, extensive knowledge of the travel industry and our ability to be flexible and quick in managing their needs.

Delivering high level customer service is not an easy task but with a company-wide commitment to great customer service, passionate and dedicated staff and a great relationship with our partners and suppliers we always meet and exceed our clients’ expectations.

Leisure travel agency manager of the year
Aiden Walsh
Prime Travel

Since taking up his position just seven months ago, year-on-year sales at Prime Travel have increased 30 percent and profit is up 25 percent. Underlying Aiden’s amazing success is a strong commitment to transform his team from traditional travel agents to the next level of travel advisors.

ATN: What new initiatives have you brought in to drive business?
Firstly we have changed the concept of being a ‘travel agent’ to a ‘travel advisor’ and asked staff to specialise in certain destinations and products. The market in the UAE is very generic when it comes to marketing, most of the tourist boards and even airlines usually do not have a call to action or an offer when doing advertising.

We offer our partners a platform to promote their products, backed up with knowledgeable staff to covert marketing activity into bookings. We have worked with Time Out on their festive campaign, and promoted our R&R breaks to Dubai for our contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We have changed the way we do business, working with a select number of suppliers so we become experts at selling these products and destinations.

ATN: What are you most proud of since you took on the role at Prime Travel?
Well winning the award is a big highlight, but I would also add the revamp of our website, the relationship we have with our customers and suppliers and our current financial performance as we are trading approximately 30 percent up for the first four months of the year in comparison to the same period for 2009.

ATN: Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Hopefully I will still be in Dubai and would like to be part of the next stage in developing how travel is sold in the market. I am working on a number of initiates at the moment (can’t say too much) and am keen to develop these to become successful here in the UAE. It won’t be easy but I think the market is ready for some changes.

ATN: How do you motivate your team?
We motivate staff with incentives and have put in place service and selling skills training which has been a great success.

ATN: How do you feel about winning the Arabian Travel News Award?
I guess it is recognition for the effort and hard work of not just me but also my colleagues as well. Winning this is a team effort and I would like to thank all the team for letting me get on with what I do, no matter how crazy some of my ideas are.

Travel management company CEO/MD of the year
Iain Andrew
Divisional senior vice president, Dnata Travel Services

Iain Andrew was chosen by the judges for his exceptional leadership qualities. He empowers his executive within the organisation, providing them with clear guidelines to help them achieve. His commitment and dedication to the industry goes above and beyond his role at Dnata as is shown by his current presidency of the Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group.

ATN: What initiatives have you brought in to drive business at Dnata?
At Dnata Travel Services, we focus on customer service, training and developing our staff, as well as broadening the choice of products and services. We are constantly looking to improve our operational efficiency, and regularly conduct business process reviews. In addition, we have continued with our commitment in IT such as revamping our Dnata Front Office and enhancing our websites.

ATN: What do you do to motivate and encourage your staff?
We have an open door policy at the company. Staff are encouraged to communicate their ideas. We have an annual survey where they are free to express their ideas. We offer career progression, and regularly promote staff within the company. We offer incentives through Najm (the Emirates Group’s reward and recognition programme), FAM trips, merit pay and profit sharing. Through Najm, staff are rewarded for their bright ideas. We organise staff events throughout the year such as an annual conference and cinema days for the family.

ATN: What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
There are many factors outside of our control that impact us, such as the volcanic ash crisis, swine flu and political unrest. We strive to continually improve our products and services to international standards, which more and more discriminating customers are demanding. Also, it can be a challenge to ensure that the right people with the relevant experience are in the right roles. We encourage individuals to take ownership, and provide them with latitude to make decisions.

ATN: Can you tell us about some of your career highlights?
My time at Dnata is a highlight of my career. We have seen a significant increase on profit, whilst developing more services for our customers. I am particularly proud of our outstanding performance in during the economic downturn. Over the last few years, we have received World Travel Awards for Dnata Travel and Gulf Ventures.

ATN: What advice do you have for someone looking for a career in the travel industry?
It’s an exciting and dynamic industry. We will be a larger and larger industry as we all continue to travel more. But it’s a low margin business, and you will need to run a very efficient business, with a clear focus on your market segment. Use your team members’ maximum potential, and keep their morale high at all times. People management is always rewarding and the key to success.

ATN: How did you feel about winning the Arabian Travel News Award?
I am very proud to receive such an award. Arabian Travel News is a respected travel publication, and hence the award is a real privilege. But I am only one person in a very successful team. Without my team, I would not be successful.

Lifetime achievement award
Naz Naziri
Senior vice president, EmQuest

Having started her career in the IT department of Dnata back in 1978 Naz Naziri has remained a steadfast leader through the many changes that have taken place in the travel sector. She has placed her company at the cutting-edge of technology and now continues to lead her dedicated team upwards and onwards making her the most worthy contender for this award.

ATN: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the travel industry?
The travel industry in the Gulf has really matured in the last ten years in the way in which travel is planned, bought and serviced. Since the turn of the century we have seen a great surge in leisure travel, in using internet to research options, and using corporate booking tools to better manage travel policy. Travel agency personnel are expected to use technology to its optimum to get better productivity and to remain better informed than their customers.

ATN: What are your career highlights?
I started work in Dnata in 1978 in the IT department and was involved in automating airport systems, payroll and the staff records system. When Emirates contracted with Galileo for distribution I was in charge of the total operation from connections to travel agents to training and customer support.

Over the years I went from being an IT officer to manager to SVP in this world class organisation. I was the first woman to be appointed as SVP and am extremely fortunate that I found my footing in a company that is not discriminative and have had great support and encouragement from my management every step of the way.

ATN: What are you most proud of?
I am very proud of my team at EmQuest. They enjoy their work, are very dedicated to this business and are forever coming up with new solutions. When your business is about technology you need the business knowledge, exemplary service and innovation. I am equally proud of all the relationships that my team and I have in the industry, locally as well as internationally. I feel I have friends everywhere.

ATN: How do you feel about being awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award?
I was totally taken by surprise. It is a huge acknowledgement and very humbling. It has much to do with the management who have encouraged me to get to where I am and to my team who have been a big part of the success of EmQuest. My daughters and husband are delighted for me and have embarassed me with their public show!

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