Charting New Horizons with Azma Abdullah, Executive Vice President, Sunland Journeys

PUBLISHED March 07, 2024 | updated March 07, 2024 03:45

In this issue of the Islandchief, we bring you Ms.Azma Abdullah, the driving force behind Sunland Journeys' success as its Executive Vice President. With a remarkable career spanning over 30 years in the aviation industry, Azma began her journey at Air Maldives, where she cultivated her passion for customer service and gained invaluable expertise in reservations and ticketing. Today, her leadership at Sunland Journeys has been characterized by a relentless pursuit of excellence, as she strives to elevate customer service standards, embrace technological innovations, and overcome challenges such as those posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her narrative is an inspiration to professionals seeking progress and development, embodying the qualities of dedication, perseverance, and a steadfast commitment to excellence. 

1. How did your formative experiences within the aviation industry shape your passion for a career in this field, and how does that background inform your approach to elevating customer service standards at Sunland Journeys?

My journey in aviation began straight out of school, a typical young person unsure of their path. Now, after 30 years, I'm amazed by how far I've come. Joining Air Maldives was a dream fulfilled, especially for my mother who had hoped for it. The airline's uniform was iconic, and getting selected amidst tough competition was a thrill. 

Working in aviation quickly became enthralling. The daily interactions with customers and the technical aspects of reservations and ticketing were captivating. At that time, Air Maldives managed reservations for all airlines, including Singapore Airlines, where I had the privilege of serving. Training with these airlines, especially learning Singapore Airlines' unique service culture, was unforgettable. 

Issuing my first ticket to a customer brought immense joy. Meeting and even surpassing customers' travel expectations became a profound source of happiness and fulfillment. 

In 1999, I embarked on a new chapter, joining Sunland Travel when they took over passenger sales for Singapore Airlines. It's been an incredible journey, and I'm thankful for every opportunity. 

2. In an era marked by technological advancements and accessible travel routes, the appetite for international exploration among Maldivians is burgeoning. How has Sunland Journeys evolved to cater to the evolving preferences and expectations of outbound travelers?

In the past, communication with customers mainly involved emails, phone calls, or visits to ticketing offices. However, with today's technology, we have many ways to stay in touch with our customers. Sunland Journeys has embraced this change by connecting with our clients through various digital platforms that are now part of everyday life. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become essential for staying connected with our clientele.

As travel trends have changed, so has our approach at Sunland Journeys. Initially, we offered customized hotel packages for a limited range of destinations based on customer preferences. Today, our services have expanded to include not just hotels, but also transfers, visa assistance, sightseeing tours, and a full range of travel solutions tailored to the needs of an increasing number of leisure travelers. Embracing technology has allowed us to offer a more comprehensive and personalized travel experience to our valued customers.

3. Could you recount a particularly formidable challenge you confronted during your tenure at Sunland Journeys and elucidate on the strategies you employed to surmount it?

Like many in the travel industry, we were greatly impacted by the effects of COVID-19. As managers for about six airlines, the sudden halt in flights left numerous passengers stranded in the Maldives, unable to return home. This posed a massive challenge for us. The pandemic brought unprecedented difficulties, including job losses and isolation. Despite these challenges, Sunland Journeys persevered.

We collaborated with airlines and authorities to organize repatriation flights, ensuring the safe return of stranded passengers. Transitioning to remote work had its own challenges, but our team worked tirelessly during the lockdown, overcoming personal difficulties. We provided updates on the situation and government regulations to our customers and partners globally. I want to give a special thanks to Ms. Martha for her leadership during this crisis, providing courage and motivation to the team.

This period tested our resilience, but we remained committed to supporting those affected, both locally and internationally.

4. What concrete measures have you instituted to ensure that Sunland Journeys consistently delivers unparalleled customer service experiences, particularly in the dynamic realm of travel and tourism?

Our team consists of experienced professionals who undergo continuous training, including specialized programs offered by renowned airlines. This ensures that we remain up-to-date with industry trends and can meet the diverse needs of our customers.

Understanding that each traveler is unique, we focus on tailoring our services to suit individual preferences. Our aim is to offer a wide range of options and provide attentive, personalized assistance throughout the journey.

We also prioritize building strong relationships with our business partners and customers, as trust and reliability are fundamental to how we operate.

Feedback from our customers is highly valued, as it helps us improve our services based on their experiences and suggestions.

Through these proactive efforts, we are committed to delivering outstanding customer service, making Sunland Journeys the preferred choice for all travel and tourism needs.

5. Reflecting on your extensive tenure exceeding two decades with Sunland Journeys, what key factors have fueled your unwavering dedication to the company, and how do you envisage the trajectory of your role in the years ahead?

One of the main reasons I've stayed committed to this job for over two decades is the unwavering support and opportunities for personal and professional growth that Sunland Journeys has provided. The trust and confidence they have consistently shown in me have been crucial in shaping who I am today. After working at Sunland Journeys for so long, the organization truly feels like a second family to me.

I am incredibly excited and grateful for the amazing opportunities I have been given, and I want to sincerely thank the entire management team at Sunland Journeys.

During my time with the company, I have had the privilege of taking on various roles and responsibilities, each of which has expanded my knowledge and skills in invaluable ways. As I now lead the company, my ultimate goal is to lead it to new heights while overcoming any challenges that may arise. I am confident that, with our experienced team, we will not only overcome obstacles but also ensure that the business continues to thrive in the future.

6. Sunland Journeys has cultivated partnerships with a multitude of esteemed resorts and guesthouses in the Maldives. How do these strategic alliances enrich the overall client experience offered by Sunland Journeys?

These partnerships allow us to offer our clients a wide range of accommodation options tailored to their preferences, budget, and travel needs. Whether it's a peaceful beachfront resort or a cozy guesthouse in a local community, our diverse portfolio ensures that we can meet a variety of traveler preferences.

Moreover, our collaborations with these esteemed properties enable us to provide exclusive deals, special packages, and unique experiences, enhancing the value for our clients. By building strong relationships with these establishments, we can offer personalized recommendations, insider knowledge, and seamless booking experiences, ultimately enriching our clients' overall journey and stay in the Maldives.

Additionally, these strategic alliances help us facilitate smoother and more efficient coordination for our clients, offering a comprehensive experience that goes beyond just booking flights and accommodations. Through these partnerships, we provide a holistic and tailored approach to ensure that our customers have a memorable and fulfilling experience during their time in the Maldives.

These partnerships are also a crucial part of our commitment to delivering exceptional and personalized service, allowing us to create unforgettable and customized experiences for each of our customers.

7. With a focus on personalized packages tailored to "Discover the Maldives and Explore the World," how does Sunland Journeys adeptly customize its offerings to cater to the diverse preferences and needs of travelers?

We recognize that each traveler is unique, and we pride ourselves on creating personalized experiences to suit individual needs. Whether you're a local looking for adventure, relaxation, or family-friendly activities, or a honeymooner seeking a romantic escape, we have you covered. From personalized sightseeing tours to custom outdoor adventures, and even specialized packages for medical travelers, we are committed to crafting the perfect holiday for our customers.

8. As we celebrate women this March, International Women’s Day spotlights the imperative to "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress." What significance does this proclamation hold for you personally and within the ethos of Sunland Journeys?

For me, it signifies a commitment to empowering and supporting women in all aspects of life, ensuring their voices are heard and their contributions valued. Within Sunland Journeys, this theme underscores our steadfast dedication to creating opportunities for women in the travel industry and advocating for gender equality. Currently, Sunland Journeys has a majority of women in its workforce, and we celebrate the progress these remarkable women have made within the company and the industry. We strongly believe that by investing in women, we not only drive progress within our organization but also contribute to positive change on a global scale. 

9. Peering into the future, what is your vision for Sunland Journeys under your stewardship, and how do you intend to navigate forthcoming trends and obstacles within the ever-evolving landscape of the travel industry?

Under my leadership, I envision Sunland Journeys becoming a pioneer in the travel industry, renowned for innovation, sustainability, and exceptional service. My vision includes utilizing emerging technology to enhance customer experiences, while also prioritizing environmental responsibility. As we navigate the dynamic landscape of travel, we will remain flexible in adapting to industry trends and overcoming challenges by staying informed about evolving consumer preferences and global developments. Through strategic partnerships and a willingness to embrace change, we will position Sunland Journeys as a forward-thinking and resilient leader in the travel industry.

10. As an individual who has ascended the ranks within the same organization, what counsel would you impart to professionals aspiring for growth and advancement within their current corporate milieu?

My journey within this organization has been truly transformative, both personally and professionally. I feel incredibly honored to have had the opportunities for growth that have come my way. Starting as a Reservation & Ticketing Officer and reaching my current position has been a result of my unwavering dedication and commitment. My passion for the industry and my focus on exceptional customer service have been the driving forces behind my journey. While it's common for people to look for opportunities elsewhere, I've found that staying loyal to one organization can provide invaluable knowledge and experience. I firmly believe that real career growth comes from consistent effort and dedication, rather than looking for quick solutions. It's a journey that requires patience, perseverance, and a strong sense of purpose.

I've also had the privilege of conducting training sessions for students interested in aviation and evaluating exams related to Reservations & Ticketing organized by MNSDA. Some students may feel uncertain about career prospects in this industry. However, I want to reassure our young generation that aviation is a dynamic and promising field, full of opportunities for career growth and personal development. It's an exciting field, and for those who are passionate about it, it can lead to a successful and fulfilling career.


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