Thursday, February 12, 2015


For the  2014 / 2015 award of Top Hajj / Umrah Agents, Emirates chose 10 best companies from the industry in Nigeria. These are: Dan-Bare and Al-Halal Travel and Tours, from Kano; Allstates, Batijay, and Comerel Travels and Tours, from Abuja.

From Lagos there were the remaining five companies - Ajoke, Alhujjaaj, Libra Gold, Hajj Mabrur and Tafsan Travels and Tours.

The chief executive officers of these companies were invited by Emirates to come to Dubai for the award, and a meeting with Mr Adil Al Ghaith, Senior Vice President of Emirates. In this kind of invitation by one of the best airlines in the world, I do not need to mention that all expenses, from tickets to boarding and lodging were borne by Emirates. The Abuja / Kano contingent actually travelled on first class for the outbound trip, and business class for the inbound.

It was interesting to see managing directors of these companies being treated as mere passengers at the check in counter of Emirates on Wednesday 4th February, 2015, the day of their departure to Dubai. These are CEOs who have made their mark in organising hundreds of passengers to all destinations around the world, and pilgrims to the holy land. But there we were at the airport with Emirates ground staff under the supervision of Mr Eghe Ekhator, the Sales Manager for Abuja who was also travelling with us, handling our departure arrangement.

There were two arrivals into Dubai on 5th February, 2015, as the Abuja / Kano group landed earlier onboard EK 786 at 05:50 hrs, while EK 782 touched ground with the Lagos contingent at 07:40 hrs local time. 

Meet and Assist was handled on behalf of Emirates by Arabian Adventures, The Destination Management Company, and which later transferred us to Le Meridien Dubai Airport Hotel. The efficient way in which Arabian Adventures conducted this assignment brought to mind what some of us do on our packages in receiving our passengers and VIP pilgrims. As we disembarked from the aircraft, Arabian Adventures staffers were at the main entrance of the Arrival Hall with placards on which our names were boldly written. At every point, from Passport Control, Luggage Claim, and airport shuttle, special arrangements were in place for easy passage and avoidance of hassles for this group of Nigerian CEOs.

At the hotel we were given few hours to refresh, have breakfast  and get ready for transfer to the Emirates Group Headquarters (EGHQ) for a meeting with the Senior Vice President by 11:00am.

When we arrived the EGHQ the open courtyard was crowded with staff from all departments, including the top management, attending a ceremony christened The Najm Chairman’s Awards, Emirates ‘most prestigious honour, awarded only to those who have far surpassed what might be expected of them. From saving lives and showing extraordinary compassion to pioneering innovation and saving millions of dirhams…’  This was another lesson for the visiting CEOs from Nigeria.

The whole place was decorated with gorgeous flowers and a cocktail of Western cum Arabian designs in diverse hues. There were huge loudspeakers, super-sized flatscreen televisions fixed in all angles, sophisticated studio-video cameras, and even though the event was staged in open space, in the afternoon, nevertheless, there were, for additional illumination, lighting devices that I have never seen in my life. The entire courtyard was transformed into a quasi-outdoor studio - every word spoken, every image present was clear, and not obscured in any way. 

To present the award, the name of the winner is called, his picture, and/or video clip is shown, and a citation of what informed his choice is read. The awardee then comes forward to receive the Emirates Najm Chairman’s Award amidst thunderous cheers and applause from the audience.

Our meeting started immediately after the awards ceremony in the meeting room on the ninth (executive) floor. Mr Manoj Nair, Regional Manager, West Africa introduced members from the Emirates side. They were Adil Al Ghaith, Senior Vice President, Mohammad Al Hashimi, Vice President (Commercial), Jaber Mohamed, Manager Greece & Albania, Karthik Viswanathan, Key Accountants Development Manager Global Sales, and Roy John, Tours Sales Manager.

On the Nigerian side of the table were Eghe Ekhator, Sales Manager, Emirates Abuja, Mohammed Kabir Maiwada, MD, Al Halal Travels, Yahaya Suleiman Nasidi, CEO, Danbare Travels, Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad, CEO, Comerel Travels, Saleh Kareem Rabo, MD, Allstates Travel, and Tijjani Uba Waru, CEO, Batijay Travels.

Others were Abdullateef Kola Olawunmi, MD, Tafsan Tours, Zhikraha Folake Aduke Akanbi, CEO, Libragold Travels, Isiaka Adegoke Adedeji, CEO, Ajoke Travels, Lukmon Olajobi Sanusi, MD, Alhujaaj Travels, and Zulkifil Babatunde Adewunmi, MD, Hajj Mabrur Ventures.

The introductions over, Hafiz Azim, Regional Manager, Commercial Operations for Northern and West Africa, informed the gathering that Emirates Group Headquarters connects to the railway station and even the airport. The crew and staff hardly use their cars to the office. They just go to the nearest rail station, park their cars and take the next available train to the office, and do the same thing at close of work. The vastness and nature of activities that go on around the first floor of EGHQ, according to Hafiz, is larger and greater than what obtains in many airports around the world. 

In his welcome remarks, Adil Al Ghaith, Emirates Senior Vice president expressed gratitude for the support that the Nigerian contingent has given to Emirates in its Umrah and Hajj operations. He assured the meeting that Emirates was there to listen to our ‘concern on Ramadan and Hajj flights, and come up with ways to improve mutual benefit in future engagements.’

There was a short powerpoint presentation by Mr Manoj Nair on the operations of Emirates in Nigeria at they relate to the number of pilgrims in line with visas issued by the Saudi Arabian Embassy according to the quota allocated to Nigeria by the Saudi authorities.

The visiting CEOs from Nigeria, and recipients of the Emirates awards, raised the following concerns at the meeting: 

  • Making the list of 10 best Nigerian companies in Umrah and Hajj in this Emirates Awards was due to our dealings with the airlines through the seats that our pilgrims buy. It is sad to note that Emirates benefits more in this business relationship by making us sign stringent conditions for securing group bookings. We deposit non-refundable fees, commit ourselves to unrealistic terms, and at end of the day, where the seats are not sold, Emirates gains at the expense of our loss. Oftentimes these unsold group seats are filled by Emirates before departure of the flights, but still, we get no refund. If we are indeed partners with Emirates in this venture, there should be flexibility in the issue of securing group bookings, return of unsold seats and refund of money deposited.
  • Although Emirates is the preferred airline of all of us, and there is no point of comparison with other competitors, the airline is impeding our business by late release of group seats in both Umrah and Hajj operations. Also there is a lack of any significant difference in fare between low and high seasons, and the unnecessary splitting of a group of say 100 pilgrims to travel on different dates. This split means little to Emirates but much to us because we have to provide a leader for each group, which increases our overhead. 
  • Uncertainty in pricing is making us loose credibility in the eyes of our clients who buy Emirates tickets from us. The main issue is the parity of rates between what you are given now on the booking system and what the actual rate will be when you issue the ticket. Why are tickets sometimes cheaper on the system than what Emirates gives us for group rates?
  • Emirates should address the problem of block booking of business class in the high season of the holy pilgrimages.
  • The rigidity in Emirates is making some passengers ‘taste’ other products by competitors in the industry. Issues like insisting on one piece of check in luggage at a time when other airlines allow two pieces of 23 kg each even to economy passengers is repelling people from Emirates.
  • Why is Emirates not in Kano? We worked hard in advertising Emirates only to be disappointed at the last minute that the flight is restricted to Abuja. Emirates is making a big mistake by not flying from Kano. Most of the people you see in Lagos, and later Abuja are actually from the Kano catchment areas and even the Niger Republic.
  • Now, since Emirates is not flying from Kano, we request that you give us chartered flights direct to Madinah during the Ramadan and Hajj seasons. 

We got the following responses from Emirates representatives at the meeting:

  • We are trying to be as flexible as possible, but even at that, last minute cancellation leaves virtually no room for Emirates to do anything. 100% refund cannot be guaranteed, but you as agents should be able to make your passengers be responsible for last minute cancellations. We agree with you that there should be flexibility in terms of certain conditions entered into. 
  • The parity in low and high season rates was an error, call it a one-time error, and it is rectified. But the difference in rates during high season is due to demand and supply. People travelling late, as close to the time of actual pilgrimage as possible and wanting to leave as early as possible. So, if you want to leave early you should pay more, because Emirates finds it hard to get slots for extra flights. Such demand is not from Nigeria alone; Emirates entertains requests from all over the world.
  • Splitting groups at times is due to operational impediments. But honestly, it  is cheaper for Emirates to take you all at once. This is one area that quota and landing slots in Saudi Arabia affects everybody.
  • Emirates is pleasantly surprised with the success of Abuja; it was far above our expectations. More flights should not be out of place; the route is a huge success story. We are not ready for Kano yet, but we shall be in Kano. Not all our requirements have been met or fulfilled from the officials in Kano. Of course Kano is a market under our radar. The fact that we have a full fledged office in Kano is an indication of our commitment and seriousness. Kano was stopped for operational reasons, that is all.
  • Charter from Kano will depend on the time we get slots, but we will look into this, not just raising your expectation, for that is why you are here, to present your concern directly to Emirates.

As a businessman and as one who is a keen observer of management practices, I commend Emirates. I am not writing because my company was chosen for the award. I am writing to highlight how it should be when a company gets it right. Emirates showed foresight and vision by taking charge of the market through a quick appraisal of the market leaders and a rapid familiarisation with the problems they face. They are poised to adjust and deliver better service.

They have shown that they can listen and they have demonstrated that the maxim that you spend money to make more money is true. They went to  considerable lengths to get the CEOs’ attention and input and they did. Kudos to Emirates, I have learnt another management lesson.

1 comment:

  1. Salaam,
    Congratulations for this meritorious award. How I wish some of our leaders in the country can listen to the citizens of the country. To you and your colleagues who received similar awards, I hope you will see it as an opportunity to improve in the services you provide to the public. To those who are yet to be awarded, this is a challenge. The Nigerian Hajj Commission should also follow suit by honouring those who did their job well. This way it can issue cane or carrots. However, they might have done something similar; I am not sure.