Connecting to history, people and culture dominates Gulf travel trends
Dubai - The Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2017, the Middle East’s largest travel trade event, focused on “experiential travel” in its 24th edition at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
The late April event featured more than 2,600 participants, including 100 exhibitors who made their ATM debut, and 35 seminar and technology theatre sessions. More than 150 countries were represented, with 65 national pavilions.
Simon Press, ATM’s senior exhibition director, said: “The one big trend we are currently witnessing throughout the industry is that of experiential travel, with people around the world demonstrating an increasing desire to experience a destination by connecting to its history, people and culture.
“So it is perfectly fitting that this year’s Arabian Travel Market has been designed along that theme, with experiential travel integrated across all show verticals and planned activities.”
“We also wanted to create awareness of how to convert concepts into viable commercial realities, to broaden the appeal of Middle East destinations, increase visitor numbers and revenues, which can support sustainable economic development,” he added.
The Middle East has an abundance of authentic local experiences to offer — from overnight stays in a stone house in remote Omani villages to Old Dubai walking tours that search out the best street food.
The tourism industry, while innovative in many ways, is a service provider meeting the demands of travellers, Press said.
“People no longer want to be bystanders when they travel,” he said. “Rather, they want to associate themselves with a destination and learn about its people, its culture and its traditions. Thanks to technology, people can connect with each other all over the world through a variety of platforms. Put in that context, it’s an obvious travel trend really.”
With 2017 being the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the Middle East has experienced huge changes since the UN World Tourism Organisation Ministers’ Forum at the ATM two years ago, Press said.
“This year will reflect the pace and level of that development, uniting more than 20 ministers with industry leaders in the MENA region to consider methods of capitalising on tourism growth and building a sustainable ecosystem for the sector,” he said.
Specific areas of focus will include gross domestic product growth and economic diversification, innovation, entrepreneurship and productivity, job creation, human capital and infrastructure development, investment and export promotion.
Two major upcoming events are expected to boost the travel sector in the gulf: expo 2020 in dubai and fifa world cup 2022 in doha.
“Clearly, expo 2020 is driving growth in the uae, in particular dubai, as the emirate aims to complete 160,000 hotel rooms in time to welcome an additional 5 million visitors over the course of the event,” press said.
“There will be a series of seminars that will look at the role expo 2020 will play in delivering the uae government’s long-term vision for economic diversification.”
While events such as the qatar fifa world cup 2022 and the fina world aquatics championships in 2023 in doha will attract leisure and sports travellers to qatar, “this may also attract a younger and more active demographic profile of tourists looking for contemporary accommodation and trendy [food and beverage] options,” press said.
“The [gulf cooperation council] gcc countries are looking towards tourism as a way of diversifying their economies away from their reliance on hydrocarbon receipts.”
As in other markets, gulf countries must respond to developments such as peer-to-peer accommodation sharing sites like airbnb and the demand for authentic destination experiences.
“Travellers are increasingly looking beyond conventional leisure programmes and itineraries to actively seek out atypical experiences that deliver a true taste of local culture,” press said. “Experiential travel encompasses the adventure, culture, heritage, wellness and spa and cruise tourism segments, which are currently trending globally.
“Today we see brands and tourism industry stakeholders offering their guests intangible and emotional experiences, immersing them in local culture, and traditional ways of life. It is an appeal that can be successfully transferred to backpackers and billionaires alike.”
Press said the growing trend is on the radar of the region’s tourism chiefs.
“The middle east has an abundance of authentic local experiences,” he said. “Atm 2017 focused on converting these concepts into viable commercial realities to broaden the appeal of middle east destinations.”