Emirates is flying high – taking the lead in customer experience

Emirates Airlines. Image from http://flightbooking.hpage.co.in/emirates-flight-status_90181867.html

Air travel has changed in the last 3 decades or so. Flying now is not just being transported from one place to another. Customers are looking for an experience that they can talk about or brag about on social media. When it comes to an experience Emirates is at top of the table. I sat down with Emirates Country Manager – Anita Kongson to talk about Emirates and what they are doing in the Kenyan market.

Emirates Airlines. Image from http://flightbooking.hpage.co.in/emirates-flight-status_90181867.html
Emirates Airlines. Image from http://flightbooking.hpage.co.in/emirates-flight-status_90181867.html


What’s going in with Emirates in Kenya?

Emirates is constantly developing a product that appeals to our customers in the market. We are looking at sustainability. Kenya is a mature market and a competitive market so we do the same offers we do worldwide. The idea is to keep Kenya on the map.

There are 2 flights a day from Kenya, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The afternoon one is to Dubai then to Europe and the evening one is to Dubai then to the East.

What’s so special about Emirates?

Emirates is a lifestyle brand and if offers an experience like no other in the industry. Emirates celebrated 20th anniversary in Kenya and 30 years in the world in October.

Your customer numbers seem to be growing. That must make you happy?

Emirates does not take for granted its existing customers, knowing that in the airline business you have to be on top of your game to keep existing customers happy. Emirates has built a base and is now spreading its wings.

What are some of the things you are doing to keep the brand top of mind?

Emirates is opening up a new route to Panama City. Watch this space.

Right now there is a Santa Claus in the CBD doing a sales Blitz.

Emirates is also working to bring in new customers by leveraging value. There are many facets, including having some of the best planes on the Kenyan route.

Emirates also have great packages for children, the elderly, the diaspora, and religious packages. Packages are tailor made to suit the needs of various groups. Children are the future corporate customers so when they have school exclusions Emirates must make sure that it is one to remember as that trip might be the first flight that child is going. The personal viewing system (PBS) is the best entertainment system in the industry. It is an award winning entertainment system. Emirates is building this base. When children have excursions they get t-shirts, backpacks and lanyards so that they are easily identified as a group. It is a form of corporate ID and it makes the group easily identifiable by both staff and the school handlers.

This keeps the brand fresh in the minds of children and their parents. The idea is not just to get the children to fly but keep them flying with Emirates. The children will keep flying with Emirates and hopefully when they are adults and run companies they will also use Emirates for their travel needs.

What’s the big difference between Emirates and other airlines?

Emirates is a lifestyle brand. Red is the colour of love.

I see you advertising your economy class unlike other airlines. Why is that?

Emirates has one of the best economy class in the world. It is something to be proud of. The comfort of the cabin, cabin seats, catering, and entertainment. You don’t feel like you are in economy class. Because of the comfort you don’t feel the time. It will take 17 hours 35 minutes to get to Panama City but customers will be comfortable. The airline is known for keeping the service great.

What are you doing in terms of Marketing?

Emirates is  branding and staying visible by having spots on radio and other media. The same plan for Dubai is what is used in Kenya.

Emirates also have global sponsorships for rugby, football etc. (They recently had an online competition for football.) This keeps brand visibility high. The idea is to remain constantly in the mind of customers and set standards.

What about the Dubai Shopping festival? I don’t see Emirates encouraging people to attend that.

That is a separate section. Leisure is by emirates holidays which is a different division that sells packages.

There is a misconception that Kenya is a late booking market for holidays. That is not true. Kenyans just need information in time in order to make their bookings.

Why is Mpesa not a payment option currently?

Although it is currently not an option for payments it is something they are considering. You can pay by cash, credit cards, PayPal etc. The reason why Emirates is not currently accepting mobile money payments from Mpesa is because we use an overseas bank that doesn’t have a local partner but we are working on it.

What about travel agencies? Is there a place for them now that people are booking online

Although in mature markets people are booking online or directly from the airline more there is still a big role for the travel agency emerging markets. They are an important part of the ecosystem.

People fear credit card fraud which is a valid concern and you have to adapt to what customers need not force them to conform to what you would like them to use. Emirates does not have exclusive web offers because we feel it is not ethical to shortchange travel agencies who bring in the biggest slice of business.

Travel within the continent?

In the next year 40% of new travel will be within Africa. Emirates believe in the potential in this market and will work hard to retain and grow new customers. We do not underestimate the competition for new business that will be there.

Emirates believes in protection of wildlife and have been involved in conservation efforts in Africa. One of the planes even has a picture of the Big Five to raise awareness. The other thing is that Emirates has a policy not to carry ivory or rhino horns in their places. Wildlife is a resource.

Africa Travel trends?

Africa is open for business. There are numerous Emirates flights every day. South African has 6. Mauritius has 2 and Kenya has 2 flights every day. Infrastructure is an important component in that and is something that can be improved.

One of the challenges that is unique is countries in the west have open skies. One can fly in as many times as they want but in Africa it is not that way mostly for regional airlines as governments try to protect local airlines and have a maximum number of times foreign aircraft can land. Emirates does not have that privilege in Dubai.

How full are your flights generally?

The seat occupancy on average is 87%. Emirates generally have great customer numbers. When there are holidays it goes to more than 90%.

Where do Kenyans travel to?

There is an impression that Kenyans travel to China, India, and Dubai. It’s not true Kenyans go everywhere. From the transit to the Dubai hub there are many Kenyans travelling to UK, United States, Canada and Australia. They do a lot of European excursions.

So what’s new for Emirates in this market?

To leverage on various destinations on can visit. Emirates will be flying to Panama City which is the Dubai of Central America. Recently Emirates started flying to Orlando which is a prime destination with many attractions like cruises and Disneyland. Emirates are opening up the world and giving customers a chance to check out some sexy new destinations.

Emirates focus on meeting and surpassing customer needs. In the 21st century customers are better informed. They can find out what they need from the internet. So a customer in Kenya will have the same wants and expectations as a customer in US or UK. Bad experiences will also be shared quickly. Emirates are cognizant of this.

You have mentioned Emirates is a lifestyle brand. Tell us more

Emirates is a lifestyle brand, it is an experience. That is why it has the best entertainment system in the industry. It is called ICE. Information Communication Entertainment.

The needs of customers are not food or a flight from one place to another. It is time to enjoy the experience of flying. Emirates is not in the transport business. You can play games on the flight even against other passengers on the ICE system.

Emirates is a luxury an experience. You can match fares with other airlines but you cannot match experience. The focus of Emirates is value for money spent.

What sets you apart?
The fact what Emirates is not just an airline brand but a lifestyle brand. Retaining customers is harder than acquiring new ones and Emirates is constantly innovating to make sure customers are satisfied.

  • Emirates also support good causes.
  • The experience that children get in the flight cannot be matched. There is enough to keep them entertained and engaged.
  • Keeping the brand strong. The Emirates strategies are created with sustainability in mind.
  • Emirates never rests on its laurels. It is always working to get a bigger share of the market, and also good mind share as well.

In the last 2 years the Kenyan and African market tourism market has been affected negatively. In Kenya because of Westgate and Africa because of the Ebola crisis. How did that affect you?

Westgate. Initially it was bad, it was a traumatic time. But the team was resilient. It took a year to recover.

With Ebola Emirates took time to educate customers about what was happening.

So what is the future of Emirates in Africa?

Emirates has the biggest capacity into Africa of the foreign carriers. There are six flights from South Africa alone every day. Emirates also employ many locals and create employment both directly and indirectly. So it is creating an impact.

As a woman has it been a challenge working in such a high position?

No it hasn’t. You have to be confident, know your stuff, know the business, and convince people to fly with you. You have to have a great work ethic. You have to have a great attitude towards the job and not see that being a woman is a challenge.

If you have work ethics, you will be engaged, be at work on time and over time you will be given opportunities to grow. You need to constantly raise your game. Attitude is very important. Attitude and belief in yourself. Learn to know what customers expect.

You can do anything you want, don’t be held back because you are a female.

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Potentash Founder. A creative writer and editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories. Find me at [email protected]