Being part of a family business was interesting growing up, particularly because I'm part of a large family. My grandfather had six sons and seven daughters, all of whom worked in the family business in Barhain. Each one had their own interests, so I quickly discovered that there were quite a few divisions in the family business. Because I was close to my father, Hadi Al Alawi, we would often visit the office together, which is where I discovered my passion for the travel business: he was in charge of the family's travel agency, Taj International Travel.
Before I entered the family business I decided it was important to gain experience abroad. With my family's blessing I decided to study in Boston, USA, and at the same time I found work in a marketing and advertising agency. The experience was invaluable, and learning the inner workings of US business allowed me to come back to the family business with a new set of client-oriented skills. I also built up a network of contacts that would eventually help me expand the family business outside of the Middle East.
The idea for Prestige Connection came about when I was at university, studying with members of the Saudi royal family. Being young I wanted to be the same calibre as these people. I would regularly call my father and tell him he wasn't sending enough money. He reminded me that he had to work hard and sweat to pay for my education. At the same time, many of my friends would ask me to book holidays through our travel agency and I would send requests into the office. All of a sudden, I realised I had a viable business opportunity and a chance to make the extra money I needed.
While the idea for Prestige Connection was still forming, I was getting more and more requests from friends looking for either budget or luxury experiences. The problem with the budget minded is that a saving of $5 (€3.81) on a $50 room is not a great saving and not particularly lucrative. Those individuals on a higher budget, who were looking to stay at $1,000-a-night suites, could save a lot from a 10% discount.
I commissioned a feasibility study that looked into the annual travel expenditure of 15 of my then clients. I found that they spent a great deal across a number of hotels each year. I took my findings to my father's friend at the Ritz Carlton, who was regional vice president at the time. After a number of meetings I proposed that all of the business would come through his hotels on the proviso that I would get a 15-20% discount. He accepted.
Because I felt bad turning away the requests of my budget-minded friends, I decided to make Prestige Connection a members-only club. How do you qualify to become a member? By spending more than $100,000 a year on travel, alongside a $5,000 joining fee. In exchange I guaranteed members a 15-20% discount on their travel expenses, plus all the perks, upgrades and extra services in line with a luxury experience.
Today, Prestige Connection has 57 members on the books and has an annual turnover of $1.5 million. I'm happy with the numbers because they allow me to provide the very best service possible, but I do want to move the business forward. The next step is to consolidate our clients' various membership deals, like Marriot's Gold Membership or British Airway's frequent flyer miles, into one universal card.