Graham Flannery, Head of Retail and Director of Business Development, MEIA, Travelex shares his views on the currency exchange industry and the company’s decade old operation in Oman. An OER report.
What are the latest changes within the global currency exchange industry and how has Travelex responded to these?
The increasing growth of the online, mobile and self-service channels are major themes for our industry at the moment. The online channel continues to grow globally, as people have become increasingly comfortable with technology and take advantage of the ability to combine both value and convenience. In some of our more mature markets, online travel money orders can represent up to one third of our business. Over the last 12 months, we were the first to launch online currency reservation websites in UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar. These are backed by Travelex’s online price promise, ensuring our best rates and convenience of collecting at your nearest store, or at the airport. We hope to develop these sites further to add additional products and services as well as making them fully transactional.
The convenience of ATMs appeals to both business and leisure travellers alike. As a result, self-service functionality is becoming increasingly popular and we’ve already seen a strong year-on-year growth. Capitalising on the demand, Travelex was the first company to operate full self-service foreign exchange functionality in the region. This self-service functionality includes both foreign currency ATMs and also our innovative ‘Cash to Cash’ machines accepting various note currencies and dispensing local currencies. Although currently only in UAE, we have plans to roll out ATM machines in Qatar, Oman and Bahrain shortly. As the Middle East market matures, we believe the ATM channel will be a key area of growth going forward. These self-service concepts are now being incorporated into our new store designs to give customers the choice of a ‘fast-track’ option, or more personalised service from our sales consultants.
With such a large expat population, the Middle East clearly provides considerable growth opportunities for remittance products. In late 2011, we launched our ‘Travelex Money Transfer’ (TMT) product in Bahrain, allowing customers to transfer cash to overseas bank accounts. With effective product positioning and a strong marketing strategy, this enabled us to enter what is a highly competitive cash to account market. We have since launched the service in Oman, Qatar and the UAE. Travelex currently provides this service to a wide range of countries including key corridors such as India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia.
Travelex introduces its TMT customers to a loyalty programme when signing up, with the benefit of every fifth transaction being ‘free of charge’. This loyalty programme has been successfully implemented in Bahrain and is planned to be implemented in other countries, if possible in the future. From a cash to cash perspective, Travelex has built a long-standing partnership with Western Union, signing an exclusive global agreement in 2006 to become the leading provider of Western Union services globally.
In 2014 how does Travelex see its operations expanding across the GCC?
As a company, we are investing heavily in our own global HR, finance and IT infrastructure, to ensure we are able to support our customers and colleagues with leading edge systems and technology. We see this as a key enabler in realising our expansion plans for the region. We currently have 65 stores across the region, with plans to open an additional 75 over the next three years.
What are your plans to compete in an increasingly competitive market and how does Travelex differentiate itself?
As the leading global specialist in foreign currency, Travelex brings over 35 years of expertise in helping customers convert currencies and send their money around the world. Foreign currency is what we do – it’s not simply an add-on service amongst others – we place real emphasis on developing customer insights and understanding the needs of our customers.
We also demand nothing less than exceptional customer service from our frontline colleagues. Like many companies we invest in our people to ensure they have the right training and support to deliver great service consistently. All colleagues go through a formal induction process as well as ongoing training and development programmes to not only help them maintain the highest service standards, but also to provide them with the opportunity to grow their own career within Travelex. All of our online training modules are now available in Arabic and these compliment our L&D teams operating on the ground in the region.
We view innovation as a critical part of our growth strategy. A considerable amount of projects have been undertaken in order to develop our suite of products – and this is clearly an ongoing task. We have developed over the last 35 years a trusted, worldwide brand, which now provide foreign currency services on a global scale, allowing us to implement new products and services and to adapt our knowledge and experience from other markets quickly and efficiently. There is always more to do, but we are now seeing good results from our hard work.
As the exclusive provider of on arrival visas in Muscat, have you seen any growth or a change in the profile of people visiting Oman?
The year 2012 was a record year for inbound visitors to Muscat International Airport, which is a trend we have seen continue during this year. In 2013, to the end of October, we have seen an uplift of almost 30,000 visitors purchasing their visas from Travelex, compared to the same period last year. While there has been a slight downturn in the 30-day visitor visas, the growth has primarily come from a huge uplift in the 10-day visitor visas. GCC visas have also shown strong growth this year. All of this is incredibly encouraging for the health of the country’s burgeoning tourism industry.
Oman was the first GCC country where Travelex launched its operation. What are the main achievements of the brand, during the ten years of trading here?
Since 2003, starting with just one store at Muscat International Airport, we have entered Bahrain (2004), the UAE (2006) and in July last year, we commenced trading at Doha International Airport. We will have a total of 65 stores by the end of this year across the four countries, with plans to open a further 75 stores over the next three years. We have a strong, dynamic and experienced team in place across the region, working hard to grow our existing business, but also to expand our footprint into new countries within the region.
Aside from the new market launches, there have been a number of truly impressive milestones along the way, including a number of ‘firsts’. Without listing them all, I would have to say we are extremely proud to have operations in every major international airport in the four countries we currently operate in. Airports can be difficult environments to operate in, but we thrive on the challenge and have built some very strong relationships with our respective airport partners.
Last year, we launched Travelex Money Transfer, our first own-brand money transfer service allowing customers to make cash-to-bank transfers. As we had mentioned earlier, we were the first in the Middle East to provide a foreign exchange ATM, dispensing up to four different currencies and we also opened our most innovative store yet in Dubai International’s new A380-dedicated Concourse A. Over the past twelve months we have increased the size of our team based in the region in order to support our growth plans.
We conducted the inaugural Travelex Oman Tourism Ambassador Awards in 2012, supported by the Ministry of Tourism. The awards were designed to recognise and reward individuals and businesses who are contributing to the growth of Oman’s flourishing tourism industry and were met with overwhelming support.