As Hong Kong finally eases restrictions after nearly three years, Rob Wiemerink, who is based in Hong Kong as a Regional Commercial Manager looking after the Middle East, India, and Asia Pacific at IAG Cargo, tells us what it’s been like for the team since the pandemic and why it’s so important this key region is back up and running with full force.
Tell us how you became Regional Commercial Manager.
I joined the Cargo side of our business in the revenue management team 14 years ago, based at our Head Office at Heathrow. Since then, I have been very fortunate to have worked across different regions, working with some great colleagues. I was a Business Manager in the US based out of Atlanta, then moved to Frankfurt, Germany as Area Commercial Manager Central and Western Europe and then, three years ago, became Regional Commercial Manager based in Hong Kong.
What is unique about the regions you manage?
The variety of cultures and people I work with internally and externally is very diverse. Hong Kong as my base is unique as a city and through its position in the market being a key global hub and feeding point from Mainland China. Its key strengths are its excellent infrastructure and high-quality operational handling processes. It has seen exponential growth over the last few decades and will continue to do so. IAG Cargo recognises the strength of that unique position and continues a large evolving presence in the market.
What were the biggest challenges you faced throughout the pandemic?
Maintaining a regular schedule and proposition for our customers. We reacted promptly to the extreme situation and proactively set up a robust schedule of cargo-only flights, that we have maintained throughout that period from many of the key markets in the region. Another big challenge for everyone has been keeping spirits up and remaining motivated during a difficult time while having to predominantly work from home. But we’ve done exceptionally well, we’ve adapted, found new ways of working, and created many new relationships and opportunities with customers.
How did you ensure global trade kept moving during the pandemic while there were restrictions?
We provided options for our customers for the regular flow of business in addition to the urgent demand for PPE-related goods. It meant working closely with passenger colleagues and network teams to source aircraft and crew to operate cargo-only flights. We’ve operated significant programs for the Irish and British NHS, from China to Dublin and London, as well as numerous other ad-hoc and regular charter programs from across the region to destinations in mainland Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and South America. Different commodities required bespoke solutions for our customers, which we were able to provide.
As one of the last regions to open back up to passenger travel, how will this affect you personally and professionally?
Being able to travel for work again is fantastic, catching up face-to-face with my commercial teams across the region and meeting our customers. I recently visited Delhi and Bangkok and was in Mumbai last week. My team is also able to travel to their markets from Bangladesh to the Philippines and Japan for example. On a personal level, I can finally connect with family and friends back in the UK and Netherlands after more than two years.
What has happened in Hong Kong since restrictions have eased?
Face-to-face meetings with customers have returned, meet them for dinner, meet in offices or go for a social drink. It’s a great feeling after such a testing period over the last two years. There are also larger events that are making a big difference to the atmosphere in the city. People and businesses are beginning to return to Hong Kong as flights are resuming, especially since quarantine rules have changed. We hope that soon more people will start visiting the city for all the right reasons again, the shopping, bars & restaurants, fantastic cityscape and great outdoors.
What are the biggest changes that have happened since beginning your role?
When I started three years ago, I was really looking forward to traveling, experiencing different cultures, and meet
ing teams and customers on a regular basis. Working remotely has only given me a fraction of that experience. Being able to start doing those things again is a game changer. Having those face-to-face catch-ups on coffee breaks in offices or over lunch or dinner is very important, helping to build those relationships and trust with customers as well as our own people.
How has this year’s restart of cargo-only operations been going, and why is it so important?
We restarted because Hong Kong is a key market and is an important part of the IAG Cargo network. It is of great importance for the business and for us as a Network carrier with a lot of what we export from Hong Kong moving not just to the UK, but a large proportion moves to Europe and North and South America. Hong Kong remains a strong market, so it made sense to restart it to maintain our presence in the market.
How have you managed the uptick in cargo during the busy Q4 period?
We’ve had to adjust and be agile, which I believe is one of our key strengths as a business. We listen to our customers and adapt to ensure we have the right proposition for our customers by managing capacities closely and agreeing on the necessary contracts with our customers. As we’ve continued with the cargo-only, we’ve been able to keep a stable presence in the market, allowing us to benefit from moving into the Q4 period and beyond.
What’s your favourite thing about working in Hong Kong?
I work with a fantastic group of colleagues with a great, strong working ethic. I do think the best is still to come, where a lot of people were impacted by the restrictions within Hong Kong, both professionally and personally, now that it’s opening again, you notice this with my colleagues. Everyone is becoming more open and increasing their social activities. Enjoying a night out with colleagues was one of my favourite early experiences in HK. Seeing the city opening up again will offer plenty of those opportunities again, I am sure.
Looking to book your freight with IAG Cargo? For more information head over to the IAG Cargo website.