Technology redefining MENA’s travel industry

ATM 2019 stressed the effects of new technologies on the tourism industry, which is expected to save billions of dollars.
Sunday 12/05/2019
Visitors attend a panel at the Travel Tech Show at the Arabian Travel Market. (ATM)
Evolving industry. Visitors attend a panel at the Travel Tech Show at the Arabian Travel Market. (ATM)

DUBAI - Can you imagine the sight of robots checking travellers onto flights and transporting their luggage? Welcome to the brave new world of travel technology.

The recent Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2019 stressed the effects of new technologies on the tourism industry, expected to save billions of dollars using the internet of things, robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and wearable technology.

The money being invested in IT systems at airports will be offset from savings in fuel cost over the next 15 years by using the internet of things, data published by Colliers International indicated.

“Technology and the use of technology is evolving every day. The tourism industry is at the very forefront of tech innovation with companies investing huge sums of money to improve the customer journey and experience,” said Danielle Curtis, ATM exhibition director Middle East.

Some 45 international exhibitors participated in ATM’s Travel Tech Show. Discussions revolved around digital disruption and the emergence of technologies that could fundamentally alter the way in which the hospitality industry operates.

Antoine Medawar, SVP Middle East & Africa, Amadeus, said the Middle East has the lowest online penetration globally, with 33% of bookings made online in 2018.

However, “Middle East Online Travel Overview,” a study co-sponsored by Amadeus and conducted by Phocuswright, a global travel market research company, stated that the MENA region was expected to have a fast-growing online travel market.

“The report reveals that the region is especially receptive to growth in the online travel sector, with an increase of 14% expected year-on-year, which would make the MENA region the second fastest growing online travel market in the world. The study highlights that, by 2022, 44% of all activity will be conducted online, compared to 33% in 2018,” Medawar said.

“Young people travel more. They are interested in the experience rather than the destination,” he added.

Ben Moss, director of Travel Platform Technology at T2RL, said: “[The Gulf Cooperation Council] and MENA region is very immature when compared to Europe, which is the world’s dominant in travel technology, but the region is poised for growth, with travel receiving a boost as a result of an increase in flights, opening up of more payment facilities, relaxed visa regimes and hosting of major sports events. There is now an appetite for more online travel agencies in the region.”

He said travel and tourism operators, as well as hotels, need to be open to changing their online content, instead of providing generic fare. They should be more sensitive to cultural traditions in this part of the world.

Vibhava Tripathi, of the Indian Ministry of Tourism, shared India’s experience in tech travel.

“The Incredible India 2.0 campaign launched by the Ministry of Tourism has paid attention to developing technology trends and has laid strong focus on social and digital media. It aims at shifting from generic promotions to market specific promotional plans and content creation,” he said.

India is a major player in the travel and tourism sector in the Gulf and the Middle East because of its burgeoning trade and historic links to the region.

“Over the last few years, we have been witnessing many new and advanced innovations and we are engaging these tools to understand traveller motivation,” Tripathi said.

“Another area in which we see increasing tourist arrivals from the Middle East is the online travel industry. This can be attributed to the growing adoption of smartphone usage and has given way to immense travel-related searches and bookings via mobile phones.”

During the event, representatives from St Petersburg, Russia, introduced a targeted campaign focused on the Middle East market, using technology to generate larger travel to the Russian city.

“Technology is a language that people understand well in today’s connected world. It delivers convenience and adds many facets to travel,” said Harmeek Singh, chairman of Visit St Petersburg.

“Sometimes while a physical experience is not possible, a virtual experience makes it possible to get a feel of the place. Something else that is gaining speed is the ‘Bespoke’ delivery of goods and services.

“Technology integration helps to enhance the experiences for bespoke packages and promotes tourism at a very different level. It helps you create your own packages at the click of a button.”

Given this environment, Singh said: “We have been instrumental in creating a St Petersburg experiential lounge in Dubai. It will help travellers experience the sights and sounds of the city and will be instrumental in their decision making, whether it is the weather, theatre, museums, dining, et cetera.”