Felicitating excellence

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Graham Flannery, Director Business Development, Travelex Europe and Middle East speaks to OER about the forthcoming Travelex Oman Tourism Ambassador Awards.

The Travelex Oman Tourism Ambassador Awards Ceremony, a black tie event is to be held in November 2012 in Oman. The call for entries will take place in early September 2012, which will leave enough time for the panel of judges to assess and critique the finalists. The function will be attended by 200 guests and the awards are expected to become an annual event acknowledging and felicitating successful ‘Ambassadors” for tourism in Oman.

The aim of this award is to celebrate individual excellence in the tourism industry and reward people who are often the unsung heroes. It is also an effort by Travelex to give back something to the tourism industry in Oman on the occasion of completing 10 years in the Sultanate.

Do you have any partners for the ‘Travelex Oman Tourism Ambassador Awards’. If yes, what kind of value are they bringing to the table?
We are very lucky that the Travelex Oman Tourism Ambassador Awards has got such positive support from our partners – the Ministry of Tourism, Omran, Muscat Municipality, Oman Airport Management Company and HH Sayyid Faisal Al-Said. Our partners helped us to shape the award categories and criteria and will each have a representative on the judging panel.

What is the criteria on which the candidates will be judged for the award?
The judges will select winners based on the following criteria:
Personal initiative – giving additional advice/recommendations to tourists
Going the extra mile – service over and above the normal requirements
Friendliness – a winning smile and positive personality
Delivering on the promise
How the individual promotes Muscat, Oman and their local region
Knowledge and information
Innovation and originality

What are the main objectives behind instituting such an award in Oman and how is it going to contribute to the Sultanate’s tourism growth?
Tourism makes up a significant proportion of Oman’s economy and its popularity, but there are some key people and companies that truly have a positive impact on the country’s tourism sector. Travelex, as an international company, has a responsibility to give back to the communities in which we operate. In Oman, it’s timely that the government has outlined that tourism is a critical part of its growth strategy and is aligned with our own growth agenda. As part of the tourism industry ourselves, we felt that these awards are an ideal way for us, alongside our partners, to honour those who are leading the way.

Does Travelex have a similar award elsewhere in the region and is the same being replicated in the Sultanate?
Not for now. Oman is our first venture into these awards but there is the potential for us to roll similar initiatives out in other GCC countries. We chose Oman, because it was the first country we entered in the Middle East back in 2003, it is a truly beautiful place with equally beautiful people, and because of the clear strategic vision the government has set for the industry.

How do you want to build on this campaign/ award in the future and what are your plans to promote these ambassadors in the society?
Our intention was to set something up this year, as we approach our tenth anniversary in Oman, which would have the potential to grow each year. The encouragement we have had from the industry and particularly from our partners, has been beyond our expectations, so we are absolutely thrilled to get off to such a positive start. What we hope the awards will achieve is a level of reward and recognition for the ambassadors and the fantastic work they do. By giving them some exposure to the wider community, we hope this will encourage the rest of the industry to step things up a notch to further promote the tourism sector in Oman, both internally and externally.

According to you, what kind of an impact does a strengthening Omani rial against the pound and the euro have on Oman tourism industry?
While no one knows what will happen in the currency markets, we’d hope that the strengthening of the rial won’t adversely affect the inbound tourism market, particularly from the UK and Europe, against whose currencies the value of the rial has grown in the past year. What it does mean though is that companies may need to think differently. It certainly will require all businesses to maintain competitive and stay focused on and ensure, in what are economically difficult times in many parts of the world, that good value is still delivered.

They will need to maintain their competitiveness to continue to attract the price-sensitive inbound tourists. However, if Oman continues to innovate its tourism product – as it has done – and invests in infrastructure – as it is doing with the construction of the new airport and road system – we believe that Oman will continue to attract an increasing number of tourists even if the rial continues to strengthen. In fact, despite the recent gains, passenger numbers in the past twelve months have increased, is a testament to the attraction of the country.

What are the challenges you are facing especially when travellers are much more likely to rely on credit/debit cards instead of buying currency in advance?
We know that plastic has become a hugely popular method of payment for travellers in recent years, but despite this, there is currently more cash in circulation worldwide than there has been at any point in history. As currency experts, we’d always advise customers to take at least some destination currency with them when they travel internationally. When you arrive late at night, there may not be a currency exchange store open, ATMs may not be readily available so it’s always good to have some local currency on hand for incidentals like a drink or taxi.

Like Oman’s tourism industry, Travelex also has its own growth strategy, which has seen it achieve record results in what have been some of the most challenging times the global travel market has ever seen. We have been innovating and embracing new technologies, which has seen huge growth from our ATM business. Online sales of currency can make up to 30 per cent of turnover in our developed markets. We recently launched our first new website in the region in Bahrain, with Oman’s first online currency reservation service due by the year end. Further, Travelex is one of the largest sellers of prepaid currency cards globally. We hope to bring these products to the Middle East very soon.

Can you give us a brief about Travelex Oman and its operation?
Travelex Oman currently has six stores, which we have run since 2003 in conjunction with our joint venture partner – four in Muscat International Airport, and another two in the Ghubrah and Seeb areas. We are due to open a new location in Barka later in September and will continue to look for new locations both in the capital and other regions of Oman. We provide foreign exchange, cash-to-cash and bank transfer solutions.


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