“ Make sure that your customers get the right, memorable experience with your company!”
For our new edition of Leadership Corner, we had the opportunity to discuss travel trends, business expansion and future with Daniel Ponzo, Managing Director at Zahid Travel Group.
In this article, we will reveal how Zahid Travel managed to not only survive but also expand during Covid-19, what it takes for a travel company to be cost-efficient and how to build the right structure for a strong comeback.
Let’s discuss Zahid Travel. If you would pitch Zahid, what would your pitch be? How are you different?
Daniel Ponzo: First, Zahid Travel is part of a strong and solid diversified group in Saudi Arabia ranked top 10 powerful Saudi family businesses in the Middle East.
Also, Zahid Travel Group has been in the market for the past 60 years and is highly reputed for its reliability, delivering high standards products’ quality and superior customer service. Moreover, Zahid Travel Group has established strong relationship with suppliers and is handling nearly 200 corporate customers and many of them for long years. We have a very loyal team and our clients’ satisfaction rate is over 90%. Zahid is synonymous with excellence and integrity.
How was your experience in these last 3 years regarding the management of Zahid Travel?
Daniel Ponzo: I joined this group mainly because I felt very much aligned with the Group culture, the project I was asked to lead and the leadership style from the Group’s leaders. I have been managing turnaround missions in the past decades internationally and Zahid Travel Group has been a fantastic journey where I needed to rethink its future and restructure the company aligned with a new strategy. I have implemented several initiatives such as streamlining the costs’ structure and the organization, reassigning clear responsibilities to the team and providing them the best possible tools to grow the business and the profitability. I have as well promoted a more collaborative approach to enhance teamwork and to build trust amongst the team. in approximately 15 months the company improved its net result by 90% in 2019.
Let’s get back in time! Every business had to make some decisions, adjust its resources and shift the plans! How did you shift your strategy for 2020? What were the main actions taken in the first couple of months?
Daniel Ponzo: COVID has been a dramatic situation for our industry and no one could have ever thought and planned we would need to face such challenges. We immediately worked on different scenarios to identify which immediate measures we need to adopt to minimize as much as possible the financial impact. We decided that our priorities were cash management, costs reduction but at the same time we needed to be very close to our colleagues. In fact one of the most important decision, we took with the Board was to secure 100% salary to our employees since it is in the most difficult situations that you need to support them. This decision was highly appreciated as most of the companies had opted to reduce salaries. We also immediately adopted the 'work from home' approach and we kept a constant communication through the online platforms with our teams on weekly basis and of course with our most important suppliers. I promoted several initiatives with the motto that when the business is back, we need to be better than before. We therefore used this time to rethink our processes, our working tools and the way we conduct business.
In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity. What opportunities were out there for Zahid Travel during the last year?
Daniel Ponzo: With Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia, the country is investing billions of dollars to develop Saudi Arabia as a new destination for international travelers. We have seized the opportunity to prepare ourselves to add a new Destination Management business model to Zahid Travel Group from scratch, aligned with this vision. We converted and trained our colleagues who were working in the leisure outbound division with zero sales generation because of the pandemic into Destination management specialists and we successfully positioned ourselves in one of the best and promising DMC in Saudi Arabia in the last 15 months. We successfully engaged with the most important stakeholders such as Ministry of Tourism and Saudi Tourism Authority to support them to achieve Vision 2030. Also, we have been appointed as one of the Destination Management Partners for the top and unique wonder destination AlUla and managed onsite nearly 1000 clients this winter.
Furthermore, we have taken this time to rethink our strategy where we aim to recover the business in our core activity ‘Corporate Travel’ , launch the DMC business model supported by a strong digital transformation strategy.
Would you change something that you did one year ago?
Daniel Ponzo: Nothing. Actually, we have really taken the right steps to be where we are today and we are all very proud of what we have achieved during the worse time in our industry.
The sustainability of the business is on everyone’s minds right now - how are Zahid’s goals progressing? And how do you see the upcoming years?
Daniel Ponzo: We have challenging years ahead of us and there is still a lot of uncertainty about the business recovery timeline. When we prepared our 2021 budget end of last year, we had expected a quicker business rebound which unfortunately is not happening because there are still many travel restrictions in place. However, we feel confident that we have built a new strategy for a long term success.
What role do you see technology playing in addressing travel recovery?
Daniel Ponzo: Technology is going to have a key role for our success and we are focusing on adopting the best possible tech tools to manage our core business (Corporate Travel) and looking for new platforms to manage our new business model in Destination Management. In order to achieve this, we recently hired a Digital transformation Head who will drive this important strategic initiative.
How do you see the evolution of the travel sector in the next 8 months?
Daniel Ponzo: It all depends on the speed of the vaccine’s deployment and for how long the travel restrictions will be maintained.
However, we expect a progressive rebound of the demand and undoubtedly, once all the travel restrictions will be lifted, travelers will feel more confident to travel. Our role as Travel Company is to stay tuned and informed with all what is happening and be ready to service our customers with passion and professionalism.
What advice do you have for any CEO today from the travel industry?
Daniel Ponzo: My advice would be to have the right digital transformation strategy in place, a reliable tech partner and ensure you provide a seamless customer experience and stay close to your team, adopting what I call ‘people centric’.