Connecting to history, people and culture dominates Gulf travel trends

Sunday 07/05/2017
Innovative industry. A view of visitors at the Arabian Travel Market 2017 at the Dubai World Trade
Centre. (Courtesy of Arabian Travel Market)

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.”