Housam RaydanGroup Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications Air Arabia
Despite the fact that the Middle East region has long experienced political challenges, the travel and tourism sector remains among the world’s leading in terms of growth. Housam Raydan, Air Arabia’s Group Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, shares that although these issues do have an impact, dependency on air travel remains very high due to the emerging nature of the region’s economy, as well as lack of trains or railways to connect countries within the region.
The travel industry is one that is affected by nearly every incident in the world—whether it is related to natural disasters, political upheaval, economic issues, terrorism, disease, etc.—due to the nature of the industry and the mobility involved. However, Raydan has found that regardless of the incidents that have taken place, people will still continue to travel.
“Our region experiences quite a bit of turmoil, and sometimes you experience a bit of a dip in travel demand due to certain activities that take place, but afterward you will also see a hike in the demand for air travel,” he says. “I think this is very much driven by the dynamics of the industry and the fact that people now view travel as a need more than an affordable luxury.”
The growth of digital media and mobile connectivity has also had a great impact when it comes to alerting consumers about various travel concerns. While the effects have mostly been positive, Raydan explains that it is a bit of a double-edged sword.
“On one hand, consumers receive messages and information more quickly because they tend to follow trends online and conduct research around what is happening in an area before making the decision to travel there,” he says. “But at the same time, it can also create panic because if an incident gets out of proportion and goes viral, it can create perceptions that affect people’s travel choices while the reality may not be as dramatic. It has its benefits and challenges, but I think digital media and mobile have impacted the industry in a very positive way, especially in emerging markets like MENA where the dependency on digital is growing daily.”
Tumultuous issues in the region have certainly had an effect on air travel in the past and continue to affect the industry over time. Raydan shares an example and explains that due to the recent war in Syria—a country that was once served by Air Arabia in at least four different cities—the company had to stop flying to the country altogether. However, they also noticed that following the cease of flights, travel demographics actually shifted to a certain extent, albeit on a smaller scale.
“Although we stopped flying into Syria, we actually have seen a marginal shift in travel from and to neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon,” he says. “It’s interesting because when we’ve had to downsize due to a crisis or major incident, the levels of travel don’t completely disappear—people who can will still shift their travel habits elsewhere.”
Another factor that has impacted travel concerns is the price of oil. When oil prices hit low margins, Raydan says the overall economy slows down because consumers become more conscious about their spending.
“We have an oil-based economy, so when the price of oil is really low, people tend to expect the worst when it comes to the economy, and when the price rises high, it certainly affects travel operators,” he says. “I would say that fluctuations in the price of oil have an impact that is just as strong as other issues within the region.”
When it comes to a brand’s ability to react to issues that result from health, safety and security concerns, Raydan stresses the importance of being adaptable and flexible around the changes happening around them and having a solid plan in place to be able to react quickly when something does happen.
“I think that when it comes to crisis management, having a plan in place that is easy to follow is critical. Just waiting for a crisis to happen and not having a plan in place to do something about it is really the bigger crisis,” he says. “No matter which industry you’re in, it is important to work internally to promote a culture within the organization where your entire company is prepared to respond if and when something happens.”
Housam Raydan is the Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Air Arabia Group, the first and largest low-cost carrier (LCC) operator in the MENA region and a $3 billion Dubai Financial Market listed holding company (DFM:AIRARABIA). Raydan oversees the Marketing, Public Relations, Customer Relations and CSR across the Group. He has been with Air Arabia since 2007, helping the group’s brand development and driving customer acquisition through aligned strategies, integrated marketing and communications, inventive e-commerce, product offering, people and systems to accelerate growth. Prior to Air Arabia, he worked with Burson-Marsteller helping a portfolio of Fortune 500 companies in their public relations and communications practice in the Middle East. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management with more than ten years of experience in marketing and communications.