From the word go, the vision at World Travel Service (WTS) has always been as clear as day: expand the horizons of business and leisure travel and make these experiences memorable for the traveler.
And three decades on, the Bahrain-based WTS has successfully grown to become one of the largest travel agencies in the country offering – along with its leisure division Sunshine Tours and exchange affiliate Arexco – a comprehensive service to the travel market.
All the three firms are part of the Unitag Group and while WTS looks after corporate clients, Sunshine Tours has carved a niche for itself in the leisure market.
“We are one of the only few companies to offer all travel-related services under one roof,” says chief executive Hisham Al Baradie. “We are a one-stop-shop for travel.”
He continues: “All three companies have registered steady growth over the years and 2004 was an exceptionally good year for the industry in Bahrain, with double digit growth.”
Though WTS’ main market is Bahrain, it also boasts clients from the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia, who have been referred to it by other satisfied customers. “Reputation, Integrity and Business ethics count a lot in our industry,” says Al Baradie. “They represent the main catalyst of our strength and demonstrate our professionalism in the eyes of our customers.”
Bahrain last year drew in more than five million tourists – mainly from the Gulf – for the first time in its history, and Al Baradie says one of the goals must now be to try to get them to stay longer.
“It is crucial that tourists spend more nights on the island,” he says. “Formula One gave us the boost we needed. However there is a need for more hard work and synergy to be able to have a larger share of the Western and Asian tourist markets. We need a dedicated body or a council that does nothing else but look at ways and means to develop the tourism industry. This body should comprise of members from all sectors of the trade namely the airlines, hotels, travel agents, restaurants, immigration department, ministry of transportation, chamber of commerce and any hospitality related concern. We all need to speak the same language and work in harmony with clear and focused objectives.
“We also need to understand our target market and to know what these tourists look for when they make a decision to travel, and then see if we match up to their needs and customise our offering.”
He says it’s important to develop awareness about tourism from the grassroots. “Go to southern Spain or Thailand, people breathe tourism there and everything they do is related to tourism. It’s all about creating a mindset and everybody should gear towards serving this industry which has the potential to create a large number of jobs,” he says.
WTS was founded in 1975 as a travel bureau and GSA for UTA-French Airlines and has developed over the years to offer a broad range of services including corporate travel, car hire, meet and assist, special incentive travel, affinity travel, transfers, and airfreight services.
“We are a full-fledged travel agency handling anything and everything in the tourism-related business for corporate accounts,” he says.
WTS is also the GSA for major airlines such as Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Delta Airlines, Iceland Air, Oman Air, Pacific Wings, Philippine Airlines and Scenic Airlines, and it the representative for Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
Speaking on future plans, Al Baradie says WTS is set to diversify and some innovative and challenging projects are in the pipeline. “We will ensure the core business is taken care of while the new projects are launched,” he affirms.
Al Baradie lays great emphasis on the importance of people in the success of any business. “Our assets are our people whom we care about and cherish. Underpinning everything the company does is a strong belief in the human element, a feeling of being part of a family. The average tenure of staff service is about 17 years and there are six who have completed more than 30 years in the company. When we look outwards to our client base, we realise that relationship management and effective communication are critical to our ability to provide quality services and continue to grow successfully.”
An IATA (International Air Transport Association) accredited travel agency focusing on leisure travel business of inbound and outbound tours, Sunshine Tours is the preferred agent for Disneyland, Paris, Cosmos tours, Citadines Apart’ hotel, Holiday Autos car rental, Swiss Quality Hotels International, Schwizi’s Apartments in the Swiss Alps, Accor Hotels and Thomas Cook Holidays for NRIs (non-resident Indians).
“The outbound package tours market is steadily growing in Bahrain and Sunshine Tours is a pioneer in the segment, having been established 25 years ago,” says general manager Abraham John. “The strongest market for Sunshine Tours is Europe. However, Lebanon, Malaysia and Australia are growing fast.”
Sunshine Tours has seen a growth of about 20 per cent per year during the past few years. “However, it’s important to note that Asia, Australia and Lebanon have experienced triple digit growth during the last two years,” says John.
Sunshine Tours main focus is Bahrain and the tour operator boasts clients across all sections of the community. The company’s business is mainly outbound at the moment. However, John and his team are keen to increase inbound business. “It is increasing, but only slowly. Though Formula One has acted as a catalyst, there is much more to do,” he says.
The company is participating in international expos and interacting with partners around the world to promote Bahrain as a destination.
“We are trying also to promote Bahrain as a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination and develop it that way by hosting familiarisation trips for MICE agents,” says John.
Sunshine Tours also plans to focus on the group tourism market. “We, in Bahrain, haven’t yet tapped into this segment though it’s booming in Kuwait and some other regional countries. We expect this to be a major business in the years to come,” says John.
Arexco specialises in currency services and provides clients with a wide range of efficient foreign exchange transactions.
“It is a one-stop shop for buying and selling foreign currencies, American Express travellers cheques, money transfers and issuance of drafts in multiple currencies,” says general manager Issac Yacob.
The company has arrangements with leading banks in various countries and its remittance services cover Bangladesh, Egypt, Europe, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, UAE, US and Yemen.
It offers money transfer to different parts of the world in minutes through Xpress Money and Door-to-Door/Express Transfer services to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Philippines.
Arexco plans to open branches throughout the Kingdom for better market coverage, says Yacob.