‘Over to you’: Richard Gray, CEO, Aer Rianta International Middle East

By Trb Editor |

GrayOverRichard Gray, Chief Executive Officer of Aer Rianta International Middle East (ARIME) shares his thoughts on the ‘new normal’ travel retail experience in the latest edition of TRBusiness’ ‘Over to you’ column series.

Gray was appointed last year to lead the Dublin-headquartered travel retailer’s flourishing Middle East division, which includes businesses in Bahrain, Cyprus, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

He wields senior management experience across the retail industry having worked in various roles in the UK, including with supermarket chain Morrisons. Gray is also a Board Member for the Middle East and Africa Duty Free Association (MEADFA).

I joined ARIME in August of last year, taking on the CEO role from Nuno Amaral who is now the Chief Operations Officer of ARI. After an intensive and detailed handover, I relished the challenge of continuing to build the operation here, based on solid foundations and a great team spirit.

The management team quickly bonded and I knew instantly that I had made a terrific choice to enter travel retail and was delighted with the quality of the team around me. My first engagement was to visit Cannes and meet a whole host of suppliers and influencers in the business. It was truly a great first experience and hugely beneficial for me to meet so many great people in the industry. I hope to meet everyone in person again next year, when we have navigated through the ‘new normal’ and trade has returned to some sort of sensibility.

ENHANCING CLICK & COLLECT

I am also extremely fortunate to be on the board of MEADFA, a very important body in the region, which is working really hard on a number of important industry objectives for the collective good of our trade bodies in the Middle East. This now includes lobbying for support as the industry has come to a shuddering halt due to the Covid-19 crisis.

From the highs of the Cannes and MEADFA conferences, readying to open new terminal shops in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Airports and generally building the trade in the region with our business partners, we have now taken a battering that none of us could have predicted.

Covid-19 has resulted in an instant stop to the industry: No flights, no customers, no sales – a catastrophic blow to the industry and to our airport partners and suppliers.

But, like the phoenix from the ashes, we are dusting ourselves off. We’re getting our cash flows into some sense to recover and working with all of our partners to get a sensible reset on a financial footing. This will enable us all to ride the storm and come out the other side with a sensible trading format that will work for everyone.

BDF-long-aisle

A view of the beauty and fashion aisles at Bahrain Duty Free.

We have also been busy building our recovery plans, with eager anticipation of the airports reopening, understanding local regulations and expectations on safety, as well as striving to create a feel-good factor for our colleagues and customers alike.

One area that has been driven forward through the crisis is the use of technology; of course virtual meetings using [Microsoft] Teams etc. but also, our online capabilities. We have enhanced our already strong omni-channel approach of delivering world-class customer experiences, both in-store and online.

We have enhanced existing channels and further developed click & collect opportunities offering customers the convenience to shop online, enjoy pre-shopping research, or pre-purchase before they get to the airport.

As a natural optimist, I have had to balance the hard facts of the downturn ­– a U-shaped recovery or worse an L-shaped recovery being discussed throughout the industry – with added complications of quarantine and closed borders. I’ve read report after report that travel will never be the same again, with sterile aircraft, no inflight service, four-hour check-in times, mandatory mask wearing as well as gloves, no hand baggage etc… doom and gloom, followed by more doom and gloom.

SOFTENING LOSSES AND BUILDING MOMENTUM

Well, I for one disagree. I am optimistic that the brilliant scientists and medics will find a vaccine for Covid-19. Meanwhile, we will learn how to treat this virus, so its effects are minimised and it will be managed like the many other new illnesses that have appeared in the last few centuries.

As a result, we will return to flying as we have always known it… with some interesting tweaks I am sure around personal wellbeing. Already we are starting to see the number of Covid-19 infections fall in Europe and now in the Middle East. We too are starting to see signs of the virus beginning to fade, so optimism can kick-in as we look to the future with a greater sense of hope and belief that the ‘new normal’ will be one where we can all thrive again.

But even as the eternal optimist, I know this will take some time. We need to cover our losses over the last few months and build that ‘new normal’ on a new cost base. We look forward to delivering high levels of service to our returning customers, as they once again take to the skies for some well-deserved, relaxing holidays.

We also look forward to greeting business travel customers, whom I am sure at this stage are fed up with video conferencing and just want to meet up and have that personal conversation. We will never take the freedom and enjoyment of travel for granted again.

Cyprus-DF-Larnaca

Larnaca International Airport in Cyprus, run by ARI company CTC-ARI and Cyprus Airports F&B Ltd (trading as Cyprus Airports Duty Free Shops) enjoyed a strong 2019, with revenue marginally down due to a significant refurbishment of the retail space, which is ongoing.

At ARIME we believe in our people and believe in teamwork and collective sharing. We have some great captains out there, navigating this storm, all sharing ideas and information with each other, all collaborating to ensure that we are all flying in the same direction.

With safety of our people and our customers front and centre of our thinking, we are all focused on the common purpose of reopening safely and successfully, so that we, our partners, suppliers and landlords all come through this in a way that will be of mutual benefit for the long-term turnaround of our industry.

We know the recovery will not be without a fair degree of turbulence along the way – that I am sure – but it will see us all thrive in the future, once again. Stay safe now.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the columnist and do not necessarily reflect those of TRBusiness.

To read other columns in the series, click the relevant links below. Interested in getting involved? Please contact one of the editorial team at the following: [email protected][email protected][email protected].

Laurent Safar, Chief Executive Officer, Adaptive Channel

Tim Jobber, International Management Consultant, JES Travel Retail

John Pearce, Head of Retail & Commercial — Terminal, Adelaide Airport Limited

Andrew Brodie, CEO, Sunshine Coast Airport

James Prescott, Managing Director, Harding Retail

Kevin Brocklebank, Founder and MD, One Red Kite

Alain Maingreaud, President, TFWA Part Two

Alain Maingreaud, President, TFWA Part One

Tullia Ialongo, Business Development Partner, Wand Technology

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