|Middle East - A changing world.|
Saturday, 9th March 2013
Source : Roland Wildberg ~ Exclusive from ITB Berlin 2013
As in many emerging travel markets, almost every travel segment plans to enter the online arena in the Middle East, but few have done so successfully.
Still, the region´s travel industry is growing fast, both online and off. At ITB Berlin 2013, Mona Faraj, Research Analyst, Middle East, of PhoCusWright Inc. shared her key findings together with experts from the field, including Rob Johnston, of Marriott International and Ahmed Youssef of the Amadeus group.
Mona Faraj, PhoCusWright Inc.
According to Mona Faraj, the region’s travel industry is at a pivotal point in its development process. Her research shows that the market is now being penetrated by the younger generation who are far more educated and more apt to wanting to discover the world, than were their parents.
They are also more technology-savvy and, thus, much more in tune with travel trends.
A quite young society
With 44% of of the Arab world’s population being less than 20 years of age; with 12% of all university students being privately educated; with the ratio of mobile devices on the market accounting for 108% of population (there are obviously more devices than users) - 47% of them being smartphones, Faraj indicated that the mobility of Arabs will increase dramatically in the upcoming years.
This is also evident in the increase of Arab language content, at the OTA level. “However, there is great need for an optimization of the local internet content, particularly linguistic”, Faraj said, in her presentation.
According to Faraj, the Middle East is in a positive growth-trend in all categories of travelers: national, regional, travelers from abroad as well as travel by the enormous expat-community that lives in the region. “A lot of Middle East suppliers have been satisfied with growth in 2012,” Faraj said.
“Growth was across board except in some troubled countries. We expect a 22% increase in bookings this year,” she continued. Faraj told her ITB audience that the region’s three “legendary” airlines helped boost the region’s travel attractiveness. “These local airlines represent 64% of the total market share, a number I expect will increase to 67% by the end of this year,” she said.
Middle East Panel: Mari le Ducla, Rob Johnston, Tarique Khatri, Ahmed Youssef (left to right)
Destination leaders are UAE, with 60% of the market share followed by Saudi Arabia, with19%, Qatar with 9% and Egypt with 7%. “A great deal of travel is done by the large expat community that works in the region – in some of these countries, they account for a majority of the population,” Farja added.
With the increase in Arab speaking travelers, there has been a rise in Arab language content – although not sufficient, according to Faraj and her panelists. “The discrepancies in Arabic and English content still needs to be addressed, seriously,” she concluded.
"Youth bubble" is entering the web
Rob Johnston, chief of Marriott International’s eCommerce division agrees that Arab language content needs to be upgraded, since the trend is to go to online travel agencies. “For now, people are still enjoying a faceto-face booking. But we are talking about the established, pre-internet customer-base which still dominates the market. But the new, younger generation, the ‘youth bubble’, will be changing this, and they will impact the numbers in OTA bookings faster than we can imagine,” Johnston said.
Johnston believes that English content will remain important for various reasons, particularly in online contractual agreements, “because,” as he puts it, “Arabic is sometimes too flowery…”
Dual-language content will increase in importance in content management, in the region – due to the high rate of non-Arab-speaking residents of the region. The Saudi Arabian government has already made it a requirement for hotels to include both English and Arabic content in their online presence, in order to qualify for a 5 Star rating.
Ahmed Youssef, General Manager of Amadeus Egypt in 2006, underlined the importance of upgrading the region’s travel-trade presence in the internet as well as on smart phone apps.
“My children will probably never see the inside of a travel agency. These young people are our audience of the future and we need to adapt to the trends which they are setting,” Youssef told 4Hoteliers. He said that he and his colleagues are studying the behavioral trends of this generation and are adapting Amadeus’ strategy commensurately.
“In order to achieve this, we have been actively engaging our processes with the traveler in all phases of the trip – throughout their journey. In this way we can meet their needs which translates directly in gaining their trust,” Youssef concluded.
Under Youssef’s leadership, Amadeus Egypt was able to become the country’s undisputed GDS leader and technology provider for the entire travel trade.
Branding vs general searches
Currently brand-searches account for 19% of all Google queries, in the region, according to Marie del Ducla, who heads Google’s industry operations in the Golf region. Regional and international brands have invested heavily in their internet presence in the region, which include being marked on online maps.
These maps lead users directly to the sites of specific brands. “Users end up straight at the brands because they can be found easier, either through maps or because they were found in the languages being searched for. Ducla believes that choices, which include comparative shopping, will remain low until there is more localization of the language in these markets.
All panelists stressed that, from a marketing point of view, it is essential to be seen online. “Today, everyone makes reference to doing their search on Google. We know this, so we are now investing equally in offline and online media – and cementing our brand onto the market place,”
Tarique Khatri VP Cleartrip Travel Services LTD said. “We just launched Arabic site in UAE. It is less important due to the expat market. This is different in Saudi Arabia. But since we know that travelers from the region are moving around at ever greater numbers – also as a result of the regional low cost carriers - the need for multiple language content is essential”, he concluded.
This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.
Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry always has fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance as its best.
Roland also heads the annual 4Hoteliers ITB Berlin news micro-site journalist and video/photo teams for the 5th consecutive years.