Emirates Holidays expects to build on significant UK growth last year in 2014 under the stewardship of a familiar name in the travel trade.
Divisional senior vice president Marc Bennett joined the operator in July last year having spent two years as managing director of the sports division at Tui Travel, and prior to that at Thomas Cook where he held a number of senior positions including managing director for cruise.
Now based in Dubai he is forging an identity for Emirates Holidays along the lines of Virgin Holidays based on the experience and growing network reach offered by the Middle East airline.
Speaking as Emirates announced it will start flying the Airbus A380 superjumbo to Mauritius, Bennett said the operator would be focusing on higher-margin destinations, not mass-market lower-margin destinations which are sold on price.
He said Emirates Holidays took 7,000 Brits on holiday last year and that number will grow to over 10,000 in 2013. “We have enjoyed fabulous growth in the UK, Dubai being the primary destination but also the Seychelles, Maldives, India and Sri Lanka growing well. I see that growth carrying on in the UK.”
Bennett said all the growth was coming from online. “We have a not absolutely brilliant website and a small call centre with some very committed staff. Last year 7% of bookings were online, this year 22% are online.”
Bennett said the holidays division has started to work more collaboratively with the airline and other parts of the Emirates organisation like its Destination Management Company in Dubai and those it partners with in other destinations.
A holidays tab will be added on the Emirates website and the operator will continue to work closely with its trade partners, to whom it promises price parity, although Bennett said it will not be aggressively marketing Emirates Holidays in the UK market.
“We have some fantastic trade partners and their support will be as important next year as it always has been,” he said.
Bennett added new aircraft like the A380 and the quality of the Emirates product meant it was a natural extension to offer holidaymakers a fully-branded Emirates trip. “If you trust Emirates to fly you and your kids for 16 hours you would trust us to look after your holiday,” said Bennett.
“We offer a good level of service. What we try to do is avoid the difference [with competitors] being price. You expect added value and it’s down to us to do that. In-destination experiences are easy for us in Dubai because we own a DMC, but was have some really strong relationships with DMCs in other destinations.”
Emirates Holidays has no intention to compete in the OTA space, said Bennett, but feed business to its airline.
Sister ground handling company Dnata bought UK online agency Travel Republic in December 2011, prompting speculation that its expertise would be used to turn the holidays division into more of a general retailer, but Bennett said the two divisions would remain separate.
“The key is to offer a product that’s sensibly priced, well put together and offering a nice differentiation in those markets where we are exploiting new experiences in new markets.
“There’s an understanding and a vision in Emirates of the need to extend the brand offering beyond just the seat. How do you decommoditise a seat and turn it into a holiday experience? There is a great opportunity there.
“In my career some of the things I have learned maybe have been about how not to do things, but also how to do things fabulously. I consider myself really lucky to have the opportunity to put things that do work into practice with an airline and brand like Emirates.
“If you do it well, and Emirates.com will be a significant part of that, then Emirates Holidays has a fantastic opportunity to really extend that customer experience. Of course we will do it well because everything Emirates does they do really well.”