CMO Interview: Qatar Airways

October 2016

We sit down for an exclusive chat with Salam Al Shawa, SVP, Marketing & Communications for Qatar Airways, to talk about a cool new safety video around the airline’s partnership with FC Barcelona and how a large organization keeps pace with dynamic digital speed.


Q: What do you see as major opportunities in the MENA airline/travel industry? How do you see Qatar Airways positioning themselves?

A: Eighty percent of the world’s population lives within 6 hours flight of Doha. This alone presents an invaluable opportunity for Qatar Airways to become one of the world’s major travel gateways.

Our destination list literally grows every month. We have one of the world’s youngest fleets and are receiving a new aircraft approximately every twelve days. Moreover, our service levels have won us Best Airline of the Year three times in the last five years1. Going forward we continue to see us building upon that position as it has given us great commercial success.

Q: Can you tell us about your marketing mix and how digital has played a role over the last few years? What has worked and what hasn’t?

A: Our mix is shifting dramatically towards digital. The importance of digital marketing to Qatar Airways cannot be overstated. Our home market within the GCC is one of the world’s most connected and digitally-savvy, and within that market you have an emerging youth who are “digital first” when it comes to all aspects of their life. Our intent is to make sure we are where our customers are and serve them in the way that they want to be served. The results to this approach have been apparent through public channels like social media, where we are one of the most followed airlines in the world. One of our biggest challenges is how you can move at digital speed while respecting the size and effort required to move in such a large organization. That said, we have some exciting projects that we are working on that we feel will raise the bar for us across the region and globally.

Q: Can you tell us about your marketing planning for Going Places Together campaign and the new Safety Video emphasizing Qatar Airways partnership with FC Barcelona? What were the results and key learnings of these video campaigns?

A: Both our Going Places Together campaign and FC Barcelona Safety Video were designed specifically for an integrated landscape, where our passengers consume content on various platforms of choice.

Additionally, modern consumers are no longer looking to just be informed, they want to be entertained, and they want to share and discuss the content that entertains them with friends and family. The entire concept behind our FC Barcelona Safety Video was built on that premise. Here we have the world’s most popular football team and the world’s fastest growing airline, coming together in a way that delights and surprises.

Both campaigns were highly successful in achieving their respective goals, but one of the most important key learnings we took from both was the importance of storytelling in content – not just in single initiatives, but in supplemental and follow-up campaigns.

Q: Have you worked with YouTube creators/influencers? What innovative concepts have you implemented on YouTube?

A: We regularly look to partner with key social media influencers and creators during all our destination launches and major events. We also look to work with suitable celebrity partners whenever appropriate. Recently, we launched a partnership with Masterchef Australia’s George Calombaris, a star on what is arguably one of the most popular cooking shows in the world. We invited him to tour our home in Doha recently, and will be joining him on travels to some of our other destinations in the near future.

Moreover, we regular utilise the public face of our brand – our cabin crew – to promote our destination network through engaging guides and travelogues. This approach has proven incredibly successful, and we’ll continue to be used in the future.

Q: Ramadan is an important month in MENA. How did digital play into your marketing strategies?

A: Ramadan is a very important month for us and many of our passengers. Not only do we see an increase of in-bound traffic to the region during that time, but we see an increase in passenger queries too about the services we offer. Our social media team address these questions ensuring that respond to our passengers immediately and communicate with them using the channels that they prefer. Digital is playing an increasingly important role in answering passenger enquiries around our services and offerings all year round.

"You must always go where the audience is. With the continued expansion of connected audiences – especially within many of our key markets – the importance of digital at the moment cannot be overstated."

Q: How has Qatar Airways adapted the organization to digital - through hiring specific staff, providing digital training, or building digital capabilities?

A: As digital becomes more and more key to the continued success of Qatar Airways, our internal structure continues to evolve to meet that demand. We continue to hire for the skill sets we need, but we know that in order for us to be truly successful in a digital environment we need to build those capabilities. We have put digital “advocates” within various teams to help raise awareness and have begun to hold seminars with key markets to help build an understanding of how digital can help us be much more effective. There is also an understanding that we not only need the right people, but the right tools to help them do their jobs. We are working closely with our partners, alliances, and others to have a constant eye on the horizon to find new tools to provide an edge in terms of actionable data and information.

Q: The industry is currently navigating difficult times. Does digital present a more cost efficient medium that helps drive sales?

A: You must always go where the audience is. With the continued expansion of connected audiences – especially within many of our key markets – the importance of digital at the moment cannot be overstated. With various forms of segmenting and targeting, digital is an incredibly effective and efficient medium in getting your message to a potential customer. However, I would caution in overusing methods such as remarketing as brand awareness is still an important variable in conversion.

Q: What were your key learnings from 2015?

A: The importance of storytelling in digital has become paramount for us. Going Places Together is more than just a tagline – it’s a philosophy. And after the launch of the campaign in 2015, we’ve strived to bring that philosophy out in every activity we do.

Q: What can we look forward to in the near future, particularly related to your marketing mix?

A: As our digital marketing team expands, so do our strengths and capabilities. We will continue to shift away from structured ad formats and explore more emotive storytelling through online media. Travel is a very emotional experience for lots of people and tapping into that in a positive way will help us build the brand well into the future.

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