During the recently concluded Arabian Travel Market 2016, travel industry professionals were able to learn first-hand from regional experts about the latest travel trends in the Middle East marketplace.
Following are some key trend highlights that were discussed during the four-day event.
RISE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS
The rise of the middle class in China and India is having a significant impact on the mix of travellers to the UAE. Last year, the UAE saw 1.6 million visitors arriving from India and 450,000 visitors from China. In response to this growing market, low-cost airlines, mid-range hotels and family entertainment venues are expanding throughout the region.
Last year, low-cost airlines such as Air Arabia initiated non-stop service from China, while flydubai added Chennai to its list of 59 destinations served, including eight destinations in India. Hoteliers are also investing in offering mid-market accommodations, bringing in and expanding upon brands such as Tulip Inn, Aloft, Hilton Garden Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Holiday Inn. Apartment hotels are also on the rise, with hospitality player Damac recently launching its Damac Maison Royale and Damac Maison products, geared toward the mid-market and family segments.
Serving the family market are the spate of new theme parks soon to open, including IMG Worlds of Adventure in August, Dubai Parks and Resorts’ Legoland, Motiongate and Bollywood in October, and a Warner Bros theme park set to open in Abu Dhabi in 2018.
Amadeus revealed in its Halal Travel 2016 study that the market for Muslim-friendly travel offerings is continuing to grow. In 2014, the market represented 108 million visitors that spent $145 billion worldwide in travel, a number which is expected to expand to 150 million visitors and an estimated $200 billion in spending by 2020.
Amadeus found that women are strong influencers in determining the destination choice as well as deciding on activities, accommodations and other elements of a halal holiday. Comfortable accommodation is of paramount importance to this group, as are hotels offering privacy, halal food, prayer mats and other amenities that make it easy to practice one’s faith while away from home.
Muslim travellers are interested in visiting 'new' and non-Muslim destinations. Within this segment, travellers are prone to ‘hyper-planning’ their itineraries, preferring to book all travel, tours, and accommodations in advance, and relying heavily on word-of-mouth and social media to determine their activities.
BUSINESS & BLEISURE
According to travel industry research firm Phocuswright, the Middle East’s online travel market is expected to reach $35 billion by 2018. Impacting business travel booking habits, big data and digitisation are helping business travellers with everything from paying for and tracking expenditures through digital wallets, to customisation of hotel room and airline seat preferences.
The emergence of ‘bleisure’ travel, a business trip with added on leisure travel, is also on the rise according to Euromonitor International. In 2015, 45 per cent of business travellers added an average of two to three days of personal travel to their business trips. Top leisure activities included sightseeing, dining and art and cultural offerings.
Spending nearly $200 billion each year on travel and representing 22 per cent of all travellers, millennials are a strong force within the travel market, with distinctive habits and travel desires that set them apart from other segments of the marketplace.
Millennials seek out and book travel experiences on their mobile devices and look to social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. They are highly likely to share their experiences using social media. Seeking authentic experiences while remaining price-conscious, review sites such as TripAdvisor and Zomato influence millennials in their decision-making, while sharing-economy focused sites such as Uber, Careem and Airbnb are expected to continue to thrive in the marketplace.
A FOCUS ON HEALTH
With the value of wellness trips across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region hitting $7.3 billion in 2014 according to a 2014 report by the Global Wellness Institute, there is an increased focus not only on spas, treatments and wellness, but on the growth of medical tourism within the GCC community.
'We have seen a significant shift among consumers for wellness and preventative health. They are expecting a more proactive approach from the spa in addressing primary health concerns,' notes Sayed Salem, spa manager, The Palace Downtown Dubai. Ahmed Mansoor of Colliers International commented that 'in the Middle East, wellness travel is driven by health problems,' pointing out the high rates of diabetes and other regional health concerns.
Dubai Healthcare City recently announced its emphasis on wellness in its Phase II plan, with 25 per cent of space allocated toward wellness, and an additional 25 per cent for hospitality, firmly planting the Emirates on the global stage of medical tourism with other world-class facilities such as Abu Dhabi’s Cleveland Clinic.
By Christine Hinz
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
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