Listening to Arab Youth

More young Arabs express their desire to start a business and work for themselves (picture used for illustrative purpose only)

By Dr. Jihad Azour

Optimism can be difficult to muster at a time of heightened uncertainty and global turmoil. The 2022 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, conducted only a few months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflected a darkening economic outlook. Rapidly rising commodity prices and supply-chain disruptions were fueling inflation worldwide, and higher food prices were straining low-income households and undermining food security in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Not much has changed in the year since. Despite some easing since the end of 2022, price pressures remain stubbornly high; this year, inflation is expected to average around 15% in the Arab world. Many of the region’s central banks continued tightening monetary policy to prevent inflation expectations from de-anchoring. Coupled with turbulence in global financial markets and increased policy uncertainty, this could dampen economic activity for the foreseeable future.

Given this context, it is no surprise that rising living costs and unemployment were the most pressing concerns for young Arabs. The 2022 survey covered five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia), and the Levant (Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Syria, and Yemen), where stark disparities in income and wealth remain.

This year, 41% of respondents reported struggling to pay their expenses in full, up from 37% in 2021. This share is much higher in the Levant, where 63% of the young people surveyed were unable to meet their basic financial obligations.

Moreover, this year’s survey highlighted how young Arabs’ concerns about education and unemployment dimmed their hopes for the future. About 83% of respondents were worried about the quality of education in their country. And, while only 15% of the youth population in GCC countries said it would be difficult to find a job, that share was 55% in North Africa and 73% in the Levant.

The most encouraging finding was growing interest in entrepreneurship. More young Arabs expressed the desire to start a business and work for themselves, while the traditional allure of government jobs appears to be waning (except, perhaps, in the GCC countries). This shift will help drive economic dynamism and boost growth, which could translate into more opportunities for future generations.

In response to these findings, policymakers should focus on addressing the cost-of-living crisis and generating more and better employment opportunities. Shielding households from rising prices will require targeted measures, such as temporary cash transfers to the most vulnerable segments of the population, though governments should resist the temptation to reintroduce or expand subsidies and trade restrictions. Meanwhile, survey responses point to a two-pronged approach to tackling the lack of jobs: fighting corruption and nepotism and improving the education system. Both require policymakers to implement long-term reforms.

While it is important to help young people gain skills that are attractive to current and future employers, governments should also provide entrepreneurial support for young Arabs hoping to start and grow their own business. Beyond offering more training, this means removing barriers to market entry, increasing transparency in the provision of public goods and services, and broadening access to credit.

The International Monetary Fund recently highlighted the importance of stepping up digitalization and investing in new technologies in the MENA region. This would help young men and women take full advantage of the new job opportunities associated with remote work, online learning, digital finance, and e-commerce. At the same time, digitalization will improve access to and delivery of social protection services.

Finally, the survey results underscore the threat posed by climate change. The Arab world relies heavily on food imports, making supplies and prices vulnerable to severe weather events in other parts of the world. Policymakers must take decisive measures to ensure food security, such as investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, using water more efficiently, and improving the management of food stocks and supply chains at the national level. Greater investment in clean-energy technologies could also deliver comparative advantages (by reducing the emissions produced by industrial exports), accelerate the diversification of the region’s economies, and create jobs.

The IMF is committed to supporting the MENA region through financing, having already allocated $53.8 billion to Arab countries since the start of the pandemic [link?], together with assistance for capacity development and policy advice. The Fund is also enhancing its lending toolkit to help countries better cope with new crises and challenges.

To help address the urgent food crisis facing its most vulnerable members, the IMF has introduced a one-year lending window, which, as of April 2023, has benefited six countries with a total of $1.9 billion. That scheme is complemented by the IMF’s new resilience and sustainability trust, which supports low-income and middle-income countries in addressing long-term challenges, including climate change and future pandemics.

While the most recent survey of young Arabs ultimately presents a positive picture, with many convinced that their best days lie ahead, it also suggest an ever-growing battle between optimism and pessimism, particularly when it comes to the economy. One hopes that with the support of international organizations like the IMF, the next survey will show a renewed sense of confidence, inspired by improved economic conditions. Hope for a better future must continue to be nurtured, even – or especially – in turbulent times.

Dr. Jihad Azour, a former Lebanese finance minister, is the Director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia Department.

Read the Project Syndicate column here

ASDA’A BCW wins ‘Middle East Consultancy of the Year’ at 2023 EMEA SABRE Awards

The annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey won EMEA Innovation SABRE Gold for the second consecutive year for Best Agency Thought Leadership Initiative Organised by PRovoke Media, the SABRE Awards are the world’s biggest PR Awards, evaluated by a jury of more than 50 industry leaders

ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading communications consultancy, has been named ‘Middle East Consultancy of the Year’ at the prestigious 2023 EMEA SABRE Awards, the world’s largest PR awards programme.

This is the fourth agency of the year recognition for ASDA’A BCW in recent months, after it was named ‘Media Company of the Year’ at the Arabian Business Achievements Awards in January, and ‘Best Agency – UAE’ and ‘Best PR/Communications Agency’ at the Campaign Agency of the Year Awards in December 2022. 

At the SABREs this year, the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey also won the EMEA Innovation SABRE Gold for Best Agency Thought Leadership initiative, for the second consecutive year.

Rami Halawani, Executive Vice President for Client Services at ASDA’A BCW, receives the ‘Middle East Consultancy of the Year’ 2023 SABRE EMEA award from Paul Holmes, Founder of PRovoke Media, at a ceremony held in Frankfurt.

PRovoke Media wrote: “ASDA’A BCW has always been a regional industry pioneer and continues to change the way PR is seen in the Middle East. From day one, it disrupted the industry model by targeting a market that had never used PR before: local governments, family businesses and emerging regional brands with global ambitions. ASDA’A BCW also continued to innovate in 2022 by becoming the first communications consultancy in MENA to launch a dedicated ESG advisory, OnePoint5, to meet the growing requirement for Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) services in the region.”

Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “All awards are special, but the EMEA SABREs are arguably in a league of their own. The fact that ASDA’A BCW came out on top this year is a ringing endorsement of the work we deliver for our clients. Passion and commitment are truly a winning combination. This recognition reinforces our standing in the region as a talent-led and innovation-driven integrated consultancy creating exceptional value for our clients.”

Rami Halawani, Executive Vice President for Client Services at ASDA’A BCW, received the SABRE honours from Paul Holmes, Founder of PRovoke Media, at a ceremony held in Frankfurt.

With a strong presence in the corporate domain – including corporate reputation, consumer communications, public affairs, healthcare, finance, enterprise and technology, crisis management and employee relations, ASDA’A BCW further expanded its digital and data expertise in 2022.

Last year, the Agency achieved record revenue growth in its history. This was led by near 100 per cent client retention and record new business wins. Serving more than 100 clients in the region, ASDA’A BCW ranked high in the 2021 BCW Global Client Satisfaction Survey, where 68% of respondents rated its overall performance at ‘8 or higher’ on a 10-point scale, and 83% said they are more likely to recommend the firm.

The ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey demonstrates the value that the PR industry brings to governments, businesses, and civil society by providing evidence-based insights on the hopes, attitudes, and aspirations of MENA’s largest demographic, its over 200 million youth. The 2022 edition was launched with strong global/regional impact, reaching over 500 million people within the first week of its launch in September 2022.


ASDA’A BCW appoints industry expert Rami Halawani as Executive Vice President – Client Services

Rami Halawani, formerly ASDA’A BCW’s Regional Director – Levant & North Africa, joins back from Dubai Chambers, where he was Director – Marketing & Communications

Rami Halawani, EVP – Client Services, ASDA’A BCW

Dubai, UAE; January 25, 2023: ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading communications consultancy, has appointed Rami Halawani, a strategic communications and marketing professional with over two decades of experience, as its Executive Vice President – Client Services.

He will focus on strengthening key client relationships, delivering counsel to elevate campaigns, provide reputation and crisis management counsel, and build new business partnerships.  

Rami was an integral part of the Agency’s regional growth from 2002 to 2009 as Regional Director – Levant and North Africa, managing wholly-owned and affiliate offices in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, in addition to leading the Consumer Marketing and Healthcare practices.

He joins the Agency from Dubai Chambers, where he was Director – Marketing & Corporate Communication for over 12 years, responsible for implementing the Chambers’ global communications strategy and engaging internal and external stakeholders. 

Welcoming Rami, Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “It is such a delight to welcome back Rami, who has played a key role in building our regional network. Rami will provide in-depth counsel to our clients with his demonstrated skills in integrated and digital-first communications as we chart a new growth strategy in 2023 focused on delivering exceptional client service.”

Rami said: “This is a true home-coming for me. With the communications industry evolving at a tremendous pace, it is important that Agencies focus on real value addition through service diversification and innovation – and ASDA’A BCW has been at the forefront especially with the region’s most quoted thought leadership initiative – the annual Arab Youth Survey and the recent launch of the innovative ESG advisory OnePoint5”.

Rami started his career with Weber Shandwick PR in Dubai as Account Manager and Arabic Media Relations Manager. A graduate in Literature with Post Graduation in Translation and Interpretation and is fluent in English, Arabic, French and Italian.

Having won ‘Best Agency – UAE’ – a historic recognition for a PR firm – at the Campaign Agency of the Year Middle East awards and the 2022 Best PR/Communications Agency, ASDA’A BCW is enhancing its value offerings for clients through innovative approaches to Public Relations.

ASDA’A BCW celebrates historic win as ‘Best Agency – UAE’ at the Campaign Agency of the Year Middle East Awards

Recognition marks the first time any PR firm is honoured as the ‘Best Agency’ triumphing over creative, marketing, experiential and media buying firmsAgency also wins PR/Communications Agency of the YearManaged by Haymarket, the UK-based publisher of Campaign, the awards were audited by PwC, the Global Process Integrity Partner of all AoTY awards worldwide

ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading communications consultancy, has marked a historic first winning ‘Best Agency – UAE’ at the Campaign Agency of the Year Middle East awards, which celebrate the best minds in advertising, marketing and media. ASDA’A BCW was also recognised as the Best PR/Communications Agency of the Year.

The ’Best Agency – UAE’ honour marks the first time any Public Relations firm has been honoured as the best in the industry, triumphing over creative, agencies, digital, integrated marketing agencies, events and experiential, and media buying agencies.

The prestigious Agency of the Year Awards was managed by Haymarket, the UK-based publisher of Campaign, in consultation with PwC, the Global Process Integrity Partner of all Campaign Agency of the Year awards worldwide.

PwC evaluates entry evaluation, jury selection, jury voting, and the selection of the final winners of the agency awards. The awards were adjudged by a panel of eminent client marketers and communications professionals from the region.

Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “Winning the Best Agency – UAE is an inspiring testament to our digital-first, integrated and creative approach. For a PR firm to be honoured as the best in the industry is also a big win for Public Relations highlighting its impactful role in delivering truly integrated communications and delivering value across the paid-earned-shared-owned ecosystem.”

He added: “In 2006, just six years after ASDA’A was launched, we won Campaign’s PR Agency of the Year – Middle East. It has been a rewarding journey since, as we evolved tremendously, and continue to set industry trends through innovative offerings such as OnePoint5, the first Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory by a communications firm, and Proof, our specialised digital, design and social agency. Across all these years, one aspect has remained constant – the gold standard that we ensure in everything we do. We dedicate the recognitions to our great clients and fantastic team of professionals.”

2022: A Record Year of Client Wins and Double-Digit Agency Growth

In 2022, ASDA’A BCW achieved record revenue growth in its 22-year history. This was driven by near 100 per cent client retention and record new business wins. Surpassing our new business and organic growth targets, the agency’s strategic reset, following the pandemic, spurred revenues to record highs, underpinned by two consecutive years of double-digit growth.

In 2022, the agency further highlighted its industry thought leadership with the 14th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, which demonstrates the value that the PR industry brings to governments, businesses, and civil society by providing evidence-based insights on the hopes, attitudes, and aspirations of MENA’s largest demographic, its over 200 million youth. This year’s edition was launched with great global/regional impact, reaching over 500 million people within the first week of its launch in September 2022.

The agency continues to be the industry’s talent magnet, welcoming more than 50 new professionals in 2022. Serving over 100 clients in the region, ASDA’A BCW ranked high in the 2021 BCW Global Client Satisfaction Survey, where 68% of respondents rated its overall performance at ‘8 or higher’ on a 10-point scale, and 83% said they are more likely to recommend us.

Top Findings of the ASDA’A BCW ESG Research Among Decision Makers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia

To mark the launch of OnePoint5, ASDA’A BCW’s Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory, we commissioned an exclusive study of 200 decision makers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to understand their perceptions about ESG.

The survey was conducted by PSB Middle East, the wholly owned data and analytics subsidiary of ASDA’A BCW, from May 22 to 29, 2022. The interview sample, comprising decision makers directly involved in ESG affairs, was evenly split between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Here are the top findings of the survey

Top findings

HSBC’s head of responsible investing dismisses climate activists as “nut jobs”

By Stephen Worsley

The financial industry was still reeling this week from incendiary comments made by one its most senior figures on the threat of climate change, or rather the lack of it.

Entitled ‘Why investors need not worry about climate risk’, the 16-minute address by Stuart Kirk, apparently now the former global head of responsible investments at HSBC Asset Management, to an audience of industry experts hosted by the Financial Times last week, had at the time of writing racked up more than 90,000 views on You Tube.

Add to that a few red faces at an institution that has pledged to help its customers achieve up to US$1 trillion in sustainable investments by 2030 – and been named best investment bank for sustainability.Stating that his beard was his “one sop to sustainable investing”, Mr. Kirk dismissed climate activists as “nut jobs” and bemoaned the tendency of his peers to “out-hyperbole the next guy” on the dangers of global warming on the international conference circuit.

Worst of all, he said, was the volume of climate change risk analysis he and his colleagues were being forced to do, at a time when HSBC was dealing with the “China problem”, cryptocurrency attacks, spiraling interest rates, inflation and a looming housing crisis.

“The proportionality is completely out of whack,” he exclaimed.

The Cambridge University graduate went on to insist that the markets agreed with him, arguing that the more the media used the term “climate catastrophe”, the more asset prices increased. Either this meant climate risk was negligible, that it was already priced in, or that investors were all wrong.

Fears about global warming were exaggerated, much like the Y2K scare at the turn of the century, because they underestimated the ability of human beings to adapt, Mr. Kirk concluded.

“Who cares if Miami is six meters under water in 100 years?” he reasoned. “Amsterdam has been six meters under water for ages and that’s a really nice place.”

While the FT will be delighted with the amount of engagement its humble webinar has received so far, Mr. Kirk’s rant raises a number of important issues.

Firstly, it shows how disconnected capital markets have become from the real economy, a recurring topic of debate since the downturn of 2008, from which stock markets have recovered strongly, unlike a great many households.

Share prices even continued to march upwards during the COVID-19 pandemic – remember that? – when capitalism itself was temporarily in a state of suspended animation.

Secondly, it reveals the worrying indifference of some financial professionals to climate change, a phenomenon that they, admittedly, will not be experiencing as acutely as billions of others around the world, mainly its poor.

While HSBC’s leadership was swift to distance itself from Mr. Kirk’s inflammatory remarks, other observers have been quick to defend his right to free speech and have praised him for dispensing some necessary “home-truths”.

These may be a minority, but even those committed to sustainable investing are generally only concerned with financially material climate change risks. The moral imperative of tackling global warming tends to feature less prominently in the debate, as Mr. Kirk’s outburst clearly illustrates.

Mr. Kirk also highlights a third issue, the genuine frustrations of policymakers in dealing with present-day crises, such as the war in Ukraine and the specter of a global recession, on the one hand, and the even more serious but relatively more distant threat of climate change on the other.

That is not to justify the head-in-the-sand thinking of Mr. Kirk, whose faith in humanity’s resilience to climate emergencies fails to account for the human cost of rising global temperatures. Nor the inability of the natural environment to adapt, on which we all depend.

Then again, who cares when Amsterdam and Miami are such nice places, even under water?

For communications professionals, Mr. Kirk exposes the reputational risk of speaking one’s mind in the online universe. Before, a frank exchange at an intimate gathering of industry professionals would have had few consequences. Today, as Kay-Achim Schönbach, the former head of the German navy, discovered when wandering off message during an online Q&A session on the Ukraine conflict in January, it can cause terminal damage to one’s career.

Webinars pose another stubborn communications problem – that of management approval.The FT insisted that the theme and content of Mr. Kirk’s presentation had been signed off by the suits at HSBC. But can a presentation amounting to a few bullet points and three emojis on a ten-slide PowerPoint deck really be approved?

I have a hunch that HSBC’s spokespeople will be submitting recorded versions of their speeches for their managers to scrutinize in the future. Or, like Stuart Kirk, they may find themselves suspended.

Watch Stuart Kirk’s presentation here

Stephen Worsley is the Senior Vice President – Growth & Innovation at ASDA’A BCW

UAE President HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will drive the nation’s transformational growth

Sunil John, Founder and President of ASDA’A BCW

It is my honour to congratulate Sheikh Mohamed as he leads a transformational era of growth for the nation. As the driving force in the UAE’s economic diversification strategy, Sheikh Mohamed has not only enhanced the nation’s geopolitical stature across the world but also fostered a framework of sustainable development backed by positive climate action. 

His progressive policies are a model for future-driven development and will help secure the nation’s Vision 2071 to be among the best countries in the world. Sheikh Mohamed’s belief that youth, not oil, is the future of the nation has been an inspiration for everyone.

Nearly Two-Thirds of Businesses in the UAE and Saudi Arabia Lack an ESG Framework: ASDA’A BCW Survey

Exclusive research conducted to mark the launch of OnePoint5, ASDA’A BCW’s new ESG advisory dedicated to the MENA region

Dubai, UAE; June 30, 2022: Nearly two-thirds (60%) of businesses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia do not have a framework governing their environment, social and governance (ESG) standards, and around half of those who do are not sure their employees fully understand it.

These were the top findings of an exclusive study of 200 decision makers in the two countries commissioned by ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading integrated communications agency, to mark the launch OnePoint5, its new ESG advisory dedicated to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Its name is inspired by the world’s most important sustainability goal – limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

OnePoint5 aims to strengthen the voice of the MENA region on ESG issues while helping clients to adopt more sustainable business practices. The new advisory arrives as Egypt prepares to host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, in November, to be followed by COP28 in the UAE in 2023.  

Out of the 200 opinion elites interviewed, 41 per cent said their business already had an ESG framework in place, while a third (33%) said they were developing one. A quarter (26%) admitted their company had no ESG policy. Underscoring the need for raised awareness of the benefits of ESG standards, over half (52%) of respondents who said their company had introduced an ESG framework said they did not fully understand it.

Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said the research indicated that the Middle East’s business community had work to do to meet the high expectations of their governments on sustainability best practice.

Developing a strong ESG proposition

“OnePoint5 can help client develop a strong ESG proposition to deliver greater value for their shareholders and stakeholders,” said John. “The specialist advisory will be led by Stephen Worsley, Senior Vice President at ASDA’A BCW. A communications professional with more than 25 years’ experience, he has advised clients in the sustainability and energy sectors, including Masdar, Total, Zayed Sustainability Prize, Engie and First Solar.”

OnePoint5 offers four key services: Advice & counsel to client decision makers to ensure sustainability thinking is central to their business planning and disclosure; auditing and gap analysis to understand a client’s sustainability impacts; designing operational plans to help integrate best practices; and communications strategies and plans to help clients inform and motivate employees and internal stakeholders, as well as amplify external stakeholder awareness of their sustainability commitments.

Bridging the ‘say-do’ gap

“The gap between awareness of the acute need to advance sustainable development and action on the ground by much of the business community needs closing,” added John. “Consultancies like OnePoint5 can help clients address this so-called ‘say-do’ gap, by combining the skills of experienced communicators with the technical abilities of sustainability specialists.”

He said: “The UAE, Saudi Arabia and several other countries in MENA have pledged to go Net Zero and are enacting a wave of reforms aimed at raising the bar for transparency, good governance and sustainability – that is not to mention the massive infrastructure projects being undertaken, from The Line in Saudi Arabia to Expo 2020 in Dubai, the most sustainable Expo ever staged and the planned venue for COP28 next year. The message is clear: all of us need to raise our game.”

Climate Change Already Impacting Middle East Businesses

The survey further revealed that Middle East businesses need to pick up the pace on climate action, with about two-thirds (61%) of decision makers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia saying that global warming was already having an impact on the way their business operates.

While governance standards also show room for improvement, 40 per cent of businesses in the two countries claim to have robust policies to combat bribery, corruption and unethical behaviour. Forty-six per cent of respondents in the UAE and 43 per cent in Saudi Arabia said they had a whistle-blower policy in place to expose corruption.

The survey was conducted by PSB Middle East, the wholly owned data and analytics subsidiary of ASDA’A BCW, from May 22 to 29, 2022. The interview sample, comprising decision makers directly involved in ESG affairs, was evenly split between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

See all findings here

BCW is Pan-EMEA Consultancy of the Year at 2021 EMEA SABRE Awards

ASDA’A BCW also wins Gold SABRE EMEA 2021 Award for VISA and two EMEA IN2SABRE Awards for Bayer and the 12th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey

BCW has been named Pan-EMEA Consultancy of the Year at the 2021 EMEA SABRE Awards, which recognise superior achievement in branding, reputation and engagement.

BCW was selected after an exhaustive research of 200 submissions from PR firms across the UK, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Recognising BCW EMEA, PRovoke said: “BCW kept true to its ‘Moving People’ proposition… taking a proactive approach to client partnerships and producing some of the most creative and impactful work in the industry.”

Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “We are thrilled that BCW EMEA has been recognised as the leading consultancy in the region, reflecting the quality of work we do in the Middle East. This is truly special as it reflects the success of our strategy in response to the pandemic to become truly integrated, digital-first and creative. Our talented team makes a difference with their innovative and creative approach to communications.”

Commenting on the win, Maja Pawinska Sims, Associate editor, EMEA at PRovoke Media, observed: “Three years after its mega-merger, BCW has evolved into a formidable player in EMEA, with an agility and propensity for innovation that you might not expect from an agency of its size even outside a pandemic. While much of the world came to a standstill, BCW kept true to its ‘Moving People’ proposition.”

ASDA’A BCW’s Finance Practice’s campaign for VISA, #WhereYouShopMatters, also won the Gold SABRE EMEA 2021 Award in the Best Consumer Services – Financial Services category. The campaign was selected from over 2,000 submissions from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa by an expert panel of 60 professionals.

#WhereYouShopMatters is a great example of the innovative integration of PR, research and digital. It not only made communications impact but also made a big difference to small businesses affected by the pandemic.

The IN2SABRE Awards 2021 were also announced at the ceremony, and ASDA’A BCW won two honours: Best Meme/Viral Campaign by the Corporate and Proof Communications teams for the #MoveForwardwithBayer. This impactful campaign reflects the power of the firm’s digital-first approach. ASDA’A BCW also won a Certificate of Excellence for Thought Leadership in PR for its 12th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey 2020.

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.’