Journeys Unpacked – Emirates and Visa: pioneering the future of digital travel and customer loyalty

In partnership with Visa, Fast Company Middle East's Journeys Unpacked series discussed the integration of customer loyalty, digital payments, and technological innovations.

Journeys Unpacked – Emirates and Visa: pioneering the future of digital travel and customer loyalty
[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

Customer loyalty, digital payments, and technological innovations have become indispensable components for business success. Integrating them has revolutionized air travel, from booking and check-in processes to in-flight transactions and personalized services. A customer-centric approach sets an airline apart in a competitive market. 

As part of Fast Company Middle East’s Journeys Unpacked podcast series, Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, Senior Vice President & Group Country Manager—GCC at Visa, spoke with Adnan Kazim, Deputy President and CCO at Emirates Airline. The discussions covered key aspects of how integrating customer loyalty, digital payments, and technological innovations contribute to building a strong brand reputation and trust among passengers.

Watch the full episode here


Reflecting on the changing dynamics of the airline industry, Dr. Jaffar and Kazim shared insights on the pivotal role of digital innovation and changing trends in customer demand. “Innovation plays a vital role in staying ahead of the game, particularly in shaping the industry’s future. This is evident in the tourism sector, where there has been a significant boom, especially in regions like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Dubai, for instance, welcomed 17 million international visitors last year, showcasing remarkable tourism growth,” said Dr. Jaffar.

Digital platforms, primarily through the Frequent Flyer Program, are shaping the industry’s way forward, moving away from traditional classic FFP programs towards more loyalty-focused offerings. “Consumers demand more education about changes, prompting the need for continuous innovation and the introduction of new, seamless product offerings to shape the industry’s future,” said Kazim. 


According to Kazim, Dubai’s transformation into a global hub has positive ripple effects beyond tourism, causing professionals to settle in the city. “Today, 40% to 45% of Emirates Airline’s overall traffic ends in Dubai, which implies that travelers have discovered the city’s safety, leadership, and trustworthiness, which add immense value.”

Discussing Emirates’ positioning within the broader region, Kazim notes the burgeoning tourism in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, complementing Dubai’s growth. 

“What we’re doing today is not bringing the traffic to Dubai only, but even serving the whole region as part of our objective,” Kazim added.

Furthermore, Kazim reflected on the lasting impact of the pandemic on consumer behavior, particularly in the shift toward digital payments. “Once the pandemic kicked off, that [digital payments] went through the roof in terms of the demand into the online channel,” he said.


Delving into the surge in online transactions and the quest for seamless travel experiences, Kazim outlined Emirates’ measures to meet evolving consumer demands while envisioning a future where convenience and efficiency reign supreme throughout the travel journey. 

When Dr. Jaffar asked whether digital payments remain the preferred option for customers even in a post-pandemic world, Kazim said: “Indeed, we absolutely see that.” 

“Cash used to be more prevalent pre-pandemic, but now, transactions are predominantly digital,” he added.

Emirates had long invested in digital platforms, but the pandemic accelerated the transition. “The demand for online channels has skyrocketed,” Kazim said, highlighting consumers’ preference for seamless experiences from the comfort of their homes. 

He said approximately 50% of business comes through the direct channel, reflecting consumers’ desire for value and ease.

For the airline, there’s a continued commitment to creating seamless experiences throughout the travel journey, from online check-ins to biometric boarding gates. 


Today, about 61% of Emirates’ traffic originates from Skyward members, showcasing the symbiotic relationship between brand loyalty and consumer trust. “Emirates’ loyalty ecosystem extends far beyond the confines of traditional airline perks. With over 200 partners ranging from retail outlets to hotels and car rentals, Skyward members enjoy many options to earn and redeem rewards,” said Kazim. 

The airline has transitioned from traditional mileage-based rewards to a more holistic loyalty experience. “This includes integrating Skyward benefits into the city’s ecosystem, allowing passengers to earn and redeem rewards beyond the confines of the aircraft,” he said. 

Earlier this year, Emirates and Flydubai loyalty programs entered into an exclusive, multi-year strategic partnership with Visa to strengthen collaboration with co-brand issuer partners in the GCC, enhance personalization and data-driven decision-making, drive digitization and innovation, and offer more personalized rewards and products on co-brand card propositions. 

This strategic partnership will drive growth for both organizations, increase investments into the co-brand program, and offer members personalized rewards and travel opportunities. 

Emirates Skywards and Visa co-branded cardholders can expect an improved customer journey and exclusive offers. With over 30 million members worldwide, Emirates Skywards is recognized as one of the most valued loyalty programs globally, offering exclusive privileges across four membership tiers. 


From advancements in aircraft technology to changing consumer behaviors, the future of travel may be completely altered. According to Kazim, the demographics of air travelers are undergoing a significant transformation, with younger generations showing a preference for premium cabin experiences. 

Kazim envisioned a future where airports are seamlessly integrated with digital technologies to create a frictionless travel experience. He anticipates a scenario where travelers can navigate airports effortlessly, aided by advanced technologies such as biometric recognition and AI-powered assistance. 

The aviation industry is on the cusp of transformative change, driven by technological innovation, shifting consumer preferences, and a growing emphasis on sustainability and digital payments. Overall, the future of air travel promises to be exciting and promising.

Journeys Unpacked is a series produced by Fast Company Middle East, in collaboration with digital payments leader Visa, to explore how technology, innovation, and digital payments are reshaping travel, hospitality, and digital commerce industries.  


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