Posts by Katia Abou-Rizk - Beirut

Citibank launches a novel promotion in Bahrain

finalrunwayWith banks all over the world in a precarious situation, Citibank has found a way to enhance its performance in Bahrain. In a somewhat unexpected twist, Citibank is leveraging consumer loyalty in the airline business to push its own products by joining forces with Gulf Air: Members of Gulf Air’s frequent flyer program will be rewarded with miles for buying Citibank investment products. It’s as simple as that.

With the arrival of the summer travel season, such a promotion could not have come at a better time. For Gulf Air, this is an opportunity to use what it’s learned about its best customers to create a stronger communication strategy. And in terms of building brand loyalty in a recession-sensitive industry, Gulf Air is not only broadening customer experiences, it’s giving its brand adopters a new benefit to doing business with the airline. Looks like a win/win for both brands in the region.

Royal Jordanian contest works to engage consumers

rjRoyal Jordanian Airlines has just launched a marketing initiative that’s not about free upgrades or price reductions. Its “Get to Know Your World” competition is simply about consumer engagement.

The mechanism is simple enough: Every Tuesday for eight weeks, Royal Jordanian is publishing ads featuring a photo of a well-known landmark. Contestants must enter the name of the corresponding city on the airline’s Web site. The prize: free tickets with Royal Jordanian to these very places.

The results: Royal Jordanian drives traffic to its site, gets consumers to interact with its brand, generates word-of-mouth and stimulates demand. In this recession-sensitive industry and in this part of the world, where brand-driven contests are not the norm, this effort is spot-on. Today’s prospective passengers are not being drawn in by bargains and promotions. Royal Jordanian is opting for a differentiating and less gimmicky approach, one that has greater potential to further brand loyalty. After all, when offers are comparable, the power of the brand can make all the difference.

Spa trumps anxiety in Dubai

spa_345146500_e66eade5eeThe recession is daunting. It’s omnipresent. And if it’s making you fret, well … just hit the spa!

Seriously.

No need to guilt-trip yourself about it. Many others are indulging, too.

That’s according to a study by Ernst & Young’s Middle Eastern Spa Benchmark Survey Report, which tracks and compiles the performance of Dubai’s five-star hotel spas on a monthly and year-to-date basis.

The report indicates an increase of 7 percent in the number of spa treatments booked between January and March 2009. It appears that going to the spa is one of the ways that consumers in Dubai are choosing to manage their stress. But it is worth noting that for the same period, though bookings increased by 7 percent, revenue increased by only 4 percent, indicating that these consumers are, in fact, price-conscious.

What is unclear in this latest finding is whether these trips to the spa are escapism sprees or whether they are trade-offs for what used to be actual travel getaways.

In any case, during challenging times, it’s wellness all around: Spa treatments are helping consumers alleviate the anxiety caused by the recession—and helping hotels sustain their business.

Photo credit: lyng883

An ‘economy, shmeconomy’ attitude in Lebanon

373815122_51872b6a8eThe Lebanese are definitely anxious. Just not about the economy.

A cab driver confidently told me that Lebanon hasn’t felt the effects of the global economic crisis and that “we have bigger concerns in Lebanon.” And a shopkeeper I was talking to today said his business is doing about the same as usual, but he’s looking forward to the upcoming elections and a government that he hopes will provide proper electricity, cheaper mobile rates, better roads and, most important, social security. He added, “We will worry about the economy if need be.”

The primary concern here is getting through the legislative elections in June with no shakeups. The economy isn’t a big issue in the elections, and it’s not a major concern for the average Lebanese. This is partly because of the widespread impression that Lebanon is sheltered from the global crisis. But it’s also because the country has been through political hell (again) in the last few years, with assassinations, war, riots and other upheavals. The Lebanese have managed to continually rise above the turbulence and have become less frazzled by it over time. If and when the recession creeps in, they’ll survive it with the same resilience they’ve always shown.

Photo credit: urban_data

A sobering message from Lebanon’s leading bank

bank-adThe pan-Arab Executive magazine’s March issue includes a different type of advertisement from a bank. And it’s not just any bank—Bank Audi is the largest in Lebanon, and it’s known for its catchy and edgy communications. And yet here it is with a full-page ad that’s been practically copy-and-pasted from Microsoft Word, with no images or even its usual tagline, “Grow beyond your potential.”

Bank Audi is making the point that in seriously bad times, it’s time to show one’s serious side—to be reassuring and demonstrate strength and reliability. (The bank recorded sustained growth in 2008.) With bullet points and all, it’s a no-nonsense message.

But I feel less than reassured—the only thing an ad like this does is worry me, because resorting to such draconian messaging (and this ad seems to lack a glimmer of hope) can mean only one thing: The economic doom and gloom that Lebanon thought it was sheltered from may actually be looming. I don’t think that was the point.