Interview with General Director of Space Travel Artur Muradyan
The tour operator Space Travel has a paradoxical reaction to the crisis: it seems that recent events are only for its benefit. The company says that during the pandemic, Space has strengthened its position in VIP tourism, expanded its range of destinations, and gained fame as an organizer of charters in the field of small aircraft. In an interview with HotLine.travel, Space Travel CEO Artur Muradyan spoke about how he manages to withstand turbulence in the market, and gave advice to travel agencies on how to attract wealthy clientele.
Arthur, is it true or just an external impression – that the pandemic strengthens the “immunity” of your company?
It’s hard for everyone now. But, as you know, in a crisis the rich get richer and in the same way the strong get stronger. And most importantly, it becomes clear who your reliable partner is. Travel agents and tourists naturally cluster around stable tour operators that you can rely on. I think this is one of the main reasons why Space Travel has become even higher in the market over the pandemic year. We are still uncompromising and demanding of ourselves, we do our best to improve the service and everything we do for our clients. And our clients are travel agencies to which we sell our expertise, our time and desire to qualitatively resolve issues in which they do not need to be well versed. The confidence of the Space Travel reliability market is of fundamental importance to us.
How to achieve this when trips are suddenly and massively disrupted for reasons beyond your control?
Let me remind you that Space Travel is one of the few tour operators who have already fulfilled more than 50% of their financial obligations for tours that were canceled due to the pandemic. We understand that it is us who should solve this problem, we do not believe in the support of the state. Unfortunately, tourism, especially outbound tourism, has nothing to count on, and this is confirmed by the statements of the authorities. In such a situation, leaving agents face-to-face with injured tourists is an absolutely wrong policy; an initiative on the part of tour operators is required.
I think, in addition to money, the personal activity of the top officials of the tour operator business is also important. Therefore, I myself tried to take part in all events at the state level, where it was necessary to protect the interests of travel agencies. Throughout the year, I spent weekly live broadcasts for travel agencies explaining current legal, financial, visa issues, and now I continue this practice. No matter what happens on the market, I stay in touch with partners, answer in social networks, not a single appeal is left unattended.
This is the general principle of Space Travel’s work – everyone on whom the quality of service depends is in touch with partners 24/7, everyone is ready to resolve emerging issues, down to the smallest nuances. This ensures complete confidence of travel agents in the supplier they have chosen today and will choose tomorrow.
On the question of the interests of retail. Space Travel actively promotes refresh agency fees – this is when a tourist pays for a tour directly to a tour operator, and he already transfers the commission to a travel agent in a recourse order …
Yes, according to our practice – within 3 days. We were among the first to offer our partners such a system of financial interaction. Not for your own convenience, God forbid. On the contrary, this creates certain difficulties for us, but protects retail, because Space Travel becomes the respondent for all possible claims of the client (for example, in the case of a trip cancellation due to quarantine). And the travel agency’s remuneration is recognized as our actual expenses incurred and is non-refundable. That is, the retailer, in any case, remains with his earnings.
Refresh of agency fees is one of our ideas, which were considered shocking at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, and are now taken for granted. We promote such initiatives because we strive not only to follow general trends, but ideally to influence them, to lay the right vectors for market development.
Not all suppliers practice this approach of mutual settlements with retail, as you described. And the agents themselves are probably afraid for their clientele: tour operators conduct direct sales and can lure tourists away.
This does not apply to Space Travel. It is known in the market that we sell the product only through travel agencies, we do not develop direct sales channels. Therefore, refresh rewards in our performance provide retail only with benefits, without a catch.
Recently, you held an award ceremony for the most productive partners – TOP AGENT 2020. A very intimate event, it was attended by representatives of companies that are not heard of in the industry. Who are they, these “fighters of the invisible front”?
They are not well known because money loves silence. These are mainly travel agents who work as personal concierges for very influential people, their turnover is very high. Noisy parties are simply not their format. We approached the organization of awarding top agents with great trepidation, it was very pleasant to talk with old friends, to receive a lot of positive feedback from them and to express our gratitude for their cooperation. With the support of such partners, Space Travel at the end of 2020 entered the top ten Russian tour operators organizing the most expensive tours: we have the second and third places in the Maldives and the ninth in the UAE, in 2019 – the seventh in the United States and the first in the combined tour of Seychelles + UAE.
Space Travel has long been specialized in serving VIP clients …
This year will already be 30 years old.
Please share your observations: how are the behavioral scenarios of wealthy tourists changing in a pandemic?
Of course, the coronavirus crisis has affected everyone, and people who used to travel abroad 10 times a year now travel less actively, but still more often than others. They have become even more demanding, and on the other hand, more grateful. VIP clients are now not as picky about prices as they used to be, because the reliability of the tour operator and the positive experience of cooperation have come to the fore for them. The formula “who is cheaper, we take from that” is no longer relevant. Therefore, against the backdrop of the crisis, Space Travel has a growing circle of loyal VIP clientele – a great achievement to be proud of.
In addition, we are expanding the geography of our activities, because we receive inquiries not only in our basic directions, but also in countries where we have not operated before. This is also a matter of trust. So we entered Saudi Arabia – a destination with great opportunities for business tourism.
So the corporations have resumed travel?
Yes, we have already held events in the south of Russia, in the UAE, in the Maldives, where we rented an entire island for the customer. In short, the MICE department at Space Travel does not get bored.
In addition to new directions, what discoveries have you made for yourself and your clients over the past year?
We began to actively engage in renting villas, entered new suppliers and are trying to expand the range.
Another popular format is a long stay in UAE hotels. Thanks to us, tourists discovered that renting a three-room suite in a high-profile Emirati hotel for the season is cheaper than a villa in Spain, and this gives a number of advantages: cleaning services are included in the price, all infrastructure is open access, restaurants offer significant discounts, you can take have friends in any number. A good way to while away a pandemic.
Continuing the topic of discoveries, I cannot but mention business aviation. We have worked in this area before, but … insofar as. They believed that there was nothing to do without our own capacities in the transport sector. However, in 2020, we saw a growing demand from tourists for organizing private flights. Jet-sharing became widespread, becoming a condition for barrier-free movement in a closed world. The established relationships with airlines allow us to form a competitive offer in this area. Let me remind you that the Al Khalidiah Tourism holding, which includes Space Travel, is a representative in the UAE of six airlines, including three national carriers from different countries.
Jet sharing is a topic for a separate publication. And at the end of this interview, Arthur, please give some advice to travel agencies that are just starting to form a VIP clientele. How can they stay in this business?
Be generous and considerate. At first, it is better to moderate your appetites and not try to earn a lot on the very first trips of a new client, even if he has great financial capabilities. Wealthy people very subtly feel that someone is trying to get into their pocket, and immediately close. Show that you want to work with them for a long time, become an authority for them, and then you will be able to deal with all their travel life, combining the functions of a secretary, concierge, ticket holder, visa holder. But for this you must be aware of everything that happens in the tourism sector. By the way, I can recommend podcasts that I run once a week. They allow travel agencies to better navigate the market, increase their expertise and authority among tourists.
But, in addition to business, human contact is also very important. Make friends with your clients, remember birthdays, give gifts. Treat them with sincere warmth – and you will be rewarded!