All prepared for change

Kanoo, the regional travel giant, is all geared to

join the international playing field

Kanoo in Bahrain: the group has more than 60 offices in the region

The world of global business means local travel companies will in future be judged alongside giants like Kuoni and Thomas Cook International.

"If we do not appreciate that this is going to be the case in the next five years local companies will cease to exist," says Mishal Kanoo, deputy chairman of the Kanoo Group that operates in Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

"We must provide a truly international standard service. While some companies may be large in the Middle East the global world of business is now so small and fast that international companies with big turnovers can make regional firms look small fry when trying to provide international service.

"It is essential that we are ready. It doesn't matter how big or small we are."

Originally founded in Bahrain, the Kanoo Group now has 62 regional offices, with the first established in Dubai in 1957.

Kanoo personally oversees operations in the UAE and Oman from his office in Dubai, with 500 employees in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Fujairah along with further bases in Muscat and Salalah in Oman. However the Kanoo operation in the Sultanate is more focused on shipping and freight forwarding.

Mishal Kanoo sees travel trends changing. "It's my opinion that there is now only a limited time for general sales agents (GSAs) to continue," he says. "In future quality awareness will increase with the travelling public more and more using the Internet to be better informed."

Regionally he feels it is essential that governments liaise to ease cross-border travel.

"For example while Dubai can offer lots including sun and beaches, Oman has mountains, Saudi Arabia has a great appeal and wonderful historical sights, Bahrain has archaeology and an excellent museum while Qatar has huge business potential.

"But at present visas are needed for everything and I would love to see a situation similar to Europe with no border policing which leads to the expansion of tourism and increased business.

"People are needed to create great business and we must encourage people - even those living in the region - to move around freely.

"While inter-Gulf travel with just an ID for GCC nationals is an encouraging step all political hurdles must be overcome, for keeping track of people is no longer an issue with modern technology."

Kanoo would also like to see regional airlines not fighting and competing over a shrinking pie, but co-operating.

"There is surely no need to use big jets that cannot be filled. It is much better to look to fuel efficient aircraft like the Fokker which Oman Air has.

"If passengers face air fares of BD20 ($53) versus BD60 ($159) more people will travel and everyone will benefit."

Kanoo also feels that there needs to be more focus on investment in the region's tourist infrastructure - "not more hotels, but additional amusement parks, museums and more family attractions."

He also feels that chambers of commerce need to be more pro-active in getting regional business together, backed by additional research.

"Things move at a faster pace than in the past and basically we all need to be braver over decisions.

Dubai is a huge centre and has an excellent name and has been courageous with its development. The Burj Al Arab tower was expensive but is now an attraction like the Eiffel Tower, and Dubai Airport is also a major draw.

"But there are no others of such standing in the region and we need more that people will talk about and which will be attractions. And the design of buildings is all important and must go hand in hand with overall developments," Kanoo says.

"It is also essential that the private sector moves into developments and takes bolder steps, with assurances from the governments."

As a result of restructuring over the last 2.5 years Kanoo's holiday department has been awarded an ISO for Travel, a proud achievement which augers well as the global world of travel business becomes ever more competitive.