March 2021

IATA must step up communications to boost confidence in air travel: Arab Aviation Summit panel

The rise of private charter and the challenges in business travel will have a decisive influence on the industry, but the key is to boost passenger confidence, says Sunil John

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) must step up its communications efforts, provide common guidelines and rally all industry stakeholders to boost confidence in the aviation sector, observed a panel on ‘Airline Strategies versus today’s reality’ at the eighth Arab Aviation Summit in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.

Describing the aviation sector’s response to the crisis emerging from the pandemic as ‘timid’, Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said the aviation sector’s current challenges can’t be addressed by airlines, airports, or tour operators alone but “global organisations such as IATA that must bring a commonality of approach and an industry-wide response regarding the safety and vaccine protocols to benefit the sector.”

Moderated by broadcast journalist Eithne Treanor, the panel discussion was also addressed by Linus Benjamin Bauer, Founder & Managing Director of Bauer Aviation Consultancy; and Peter Morris, Chief Economist at Flight Ascend Consultancy.

Sunil John said there is pent-up demand for travel now, but the key is to “build confidence among people who are not ready to fly, assure them of their safety and how they can navigate the various protocols. Aviation is sentiment-driven. Right now, the sentiment is all gloom and doom. Building confidence will happen when the aviation sector has clear and honest communication that addresses passenger anxieties. They must lead from the front. A proactive, courageous stance is needed for the aviation industry today.”

“The United Arab Emirates will take a lead role in driving the recovery of the aviation sector,” added Sunil, “with Expo 2020 Dubai, playing a decisive role in boosting the prospects of both the aviation and tourism sectors. The nation is at the centre of the world and we have the opportunity to convert the pent-up demand for people to get on planes and travel.”

He cited the success story of Ras Al Khaimah in driving domestic tourism as “a smart strategy’ that led to near 100 per cent occupancy at hotels in the emirate during the pandemic year, and the RAK International Airport gaining market share despite the pandemic through “flexible pricing attracting low-cost airlines.”

Sunil said an emerging trend for the sector will be the rise of private jet charters that will eat into the business travel segment of commercial airlines. “The ‘Uber of the skies’ will be a real trend offering the opportunity for people who had never had the opportunity to get on a private plane to charter their travel with an App. You are looking at a whole new market that is going to impact commercial airlines, which will likely lose market share in the lucrative first/business class passenger segment. In addition, private companies are increasingly going to look at business travel for essential or unavoidable purposes only.”

Linus Bauer reiterated the need to build confidence in the industry’s ability to “carry passengers from A to B safely.” He said the decline in business travel was a key challenge, while adding that the opportunities in the Middle East were tremendous, leading to increased appetite for aviation services.

Peter Morris said the success of the industry calls for commercial solutions. “Only business models that meet the needs of customers will be successful. You cannot force people to travel and there are different sets of parameters for business and leisure.” Top priorities include ensuring the continued viability of airlines, airports and tourism providers, he added. “A coherent response by governments is lacking and air travel patterns remain complex. The hit to global GDP is another factor that influences the ability to travel.”

The eighth Arab Aviation Summit is organised by Air Arabia and hosted in collaboration with the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA). The event is held under the theme, ‘Arab Aviation in the New Normal.’


Region’s PR industry must reskill for the new opportunity in ESG communications: #PRovokeMENA Summit

The Public Relations industry in the Middle East must reskill and upgrade its competencies to embrace the fast-growing trend of environmental, social and governance (ESG) communications, observed the opening panel discussion of the fourth annual PRovoke MENA Summit.

Under the theme, ‘A New Middle East Narrative: A Manifesto for Change in PR,’ the discussion, moderated by Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, explored the need for the PR industry to adapt and thrive in a profoundly changed media and economic landscape. On the panel were Rania Rostom, Chief Communications Officer, GE International Markets; Mazen Nahawi, the Founder & CEO of CARMA; and Vasuki Shastry, an ESG and public affairs expert, and former Global Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability at Standard Chartered.

The discussion centred on three imperatives shaping the new Middle East narrative: the new era of peace following the normalisation of ties between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel, the increased focus of regional governments and businesses on adapting to climate change, and the massive investments by state-owned entities in domestic infrastructure and economic diversification.

“The dramatic changes of the past year make it important for the PR industry to rethink its business and operating models,” said Sunil John. “What matters is not just how quickly we evolve and how we reskill, but also how relevant our work will be for our clients and the media. Our research and hands-on experience of over 20 years in the region tells us that the Middle East is entering a new phase of regional growth and optimism, and our role as PR practitioners must be to set a new communications agenda.”

“It is time to integrate an organisation’s social purpose with its operations, which is a profound communications challenge and opportunity for PR,” said Vasuki Shastry. “Companies that can articulate their purpose and back it up with their actions, will take the lead. ESG communications presents a huge opportunity for PR experts to completely reengineer brands. What will make a difference is the ability to articulate purpose and back this up with facts, which will benefit both brand and share premium.”

“The bold vision for change by regional governments to move from an oil to knowledge-based economy has built the path for a strong innovation ecosystem in the Middle East,” said Rania Rostom. “GE’s Global Innovation Barometer, conducted in the midst of the pandemic, revealed that Saudi Arabia and UAE are seen by global business as innovation-conducive economies, which speaks volumes about the progress the region has made. There is a lot more to be done, in today’s fast-changing landscape, and we can only do it by working together.”

Discussing the importance of trust in communications, Mazen Nahawi said the impact of PR is measured is “less about advertising value equivalency (AVE) and other vanity matrices but about trust: do people believe what we say and how are they engaging. The focus today is to measure the impact of campaigns based on data, and whether it leads to driving conversations at the highest levels.”

The panelists observed that the fair representation of the Middle East in international media can be transformed by the region’s digital-savvy youth, with most major companies recruiting millennials, who are a force for change. “We’ve got a richer canvas to work off,” said Rania. “We need inclusion of more voices into our narrative. More diverse and local voices from the ground up so we can build this collective momentum. It’s a time for openness.”

Concluding the session, Sunil said: “A new era of hope and opportunity is emerging on the horizon, despite the unprecedented challenges of the past 12 months. And it is incumbent upon the PR industry to help convey that message through a new manifesto for change in PR.”

ASDA’A BCW is the Platinum Sponsor of the PRovoke MENA Summit, led by PRovoke founder/chair Paul Holmes and CEO/editor-in-chief Arun Sudhaman.