‘You have your job because of the customer’
As he is presented with yet another award, this time for his contribution to the burgeoning hospitality industry, Maurice Flanagan, CBE, BA, Hon Fraes, Fraes, FCIT, executive vice-chairman, Emirates Airline and Group tells TTN’s JONNA SIMON that a lifetime in the service industry has left him grateful to the customer.
You helped found Emirates Airline in 1985, when I guess, there would be only two or three five-star hotels in Dubai. Did you ever imagine that the emirate would change so dramatically?
The formation of Emirates Airline was part of the vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai – and it was anticipated that the hotel industry would benefit and develop accordingly as the airline grew.
So, yes, we expected it. I think what has been surprising has been the pace of development – and the innovations with regard to attractions for tourists like the Dubai Shopping Festival and Summer Surprises headed by our chairman and chief executive, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
In fact, it has been the enthusiasm and support of the Dubai government, which has resulted in so many wonderful hotels being built in Dubai.
The Emirates Group ventured into the hotel industry later in the game?
Actually, no, we built the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa in 1999 and we have won many awards with this eco-friendly hotel. Today, we run the Dubai Desert Conservation Reservation with its unique herd of desert oryx, which we have helped to save from extinction. Though I have to admit that from this year, we will be in the big hotel league with the opening of the Emirates Marina Hotel and Residence and next year, the Emirates Green Lake Serviced Apartments, whilst in 2010, the 70-storey twin-tower Emirates Park Towers Hotel and Residence will be completed.
What is the difference in running airlines and operating hotels?
Hotels do not need jet fuel and traffic rights and airlines do not need swimming pools. But they have actually much in common: meal service for example. Emirates Airline serves about 30 million meals a year. Both businesses require professional staff who enjoy dealing with people, face to face. A successful airline such as Emirates places great importance on choosing staff. You cannot expect to teach people to smile and be nice to customers if nature has not made them that way; you have to select the right people in the first place. Hotels have the same challenges. Both are much more complicated than it seems at first sight.
Does Dubai need more hotels?
Oh, yes, and they are already planned. With room occupancy rates in the 90s and Dubai’s ruler targeting 15 million visitors by 2012, we will be adding many more aircraft to the fleet, bringing more vacationers to Dubai – and they need somewhere to stay. And not just anywhere, but wonderful world-class five-star hotels.
Would you personally have liked to have gone the hotel route instead of airlines?
No, I have been in the aviation business, since I joined BOAC as a graduate trainee and before that I was a navigator during my National Service. So you might say that aviation is in my blood. I do not think hotels are for me, but I have many friends and colleagues in the business and admire their professionalism.
After so many years in the service industry, what advice would you give someone who has just entered airlines, hotels or a similar business?
I think it is a very simple message: never ever forget that the reason you have your job is because of the customer. Always spend your working life thinking of ways to improve the service to the customer. Always accept criticism as a way of elevating your service standards. I would just like to add that I am always impressed by the training and quality of service, which is apparent in Dubai’s deluxe hotels.