Arabian Travel Market: the future of travel

Mobile apps, Asian millennials and the super rich; Vision explores where the Arabian Travel Market is heading next

The Arabian Travel Market is a juggernaut. The biggest tourism and hospitality conference in the region, it’s been running in Dubai for 21 years, and growing each year. As it came to a close in early May, it had played host to more than 2,700 exhibitors representing 157 countries, and nearly 25,000 visitors, who came to learn about the latest trends in the trade, and to swap tips and contacts.

This year, one of the key spotlights was the luxury travel industry – a field that’s growing, especially in the UAE, where the number of millionaires is set to grow by 12 per cent by 2017, according to Credit Suisse. The ATM’s organiser, Mark Walsh, points out that there are “few places on earth that have such a concentration of luxury five-star hotels complemented by a lifestyle to match,” and goes on to mention super-yachts, multimillion-dollar homes, superstar chefs and private jets. It is clearly an area where there are serious profits to be made.

Arabian Travel Market
ATM attracted 2,700 exhibitors representing 157 countries

Another big focus, unsurprisingly, was technology, and many of the talks that were part of the event looked at topics like building an online brand, working with travel bloggers, mobile phone technology and online booking engines. This last subject is an area where there is a lot of opportunity, according to Asia Pacific research analyst Chetan Kapoor. Of people in the UAE booking flights, 60 per cent of them did so online, but across the wider Middle East, the figure plummets to only one in six, making it the “lowest online travel penetration in the world,” according to Kapoor. “It’s an open field for companies to come in.”

Among other customers that companies are targeting, travellers from Asia are high on the list. A popular talk on the rise of the independent Asian traveller revealed that digitally connected Asian millennials are seeking authentic travel experiences rather than group packages, and that family groups journeying together from Muslim countries are another growing demographic, who like to spend plenty of money as they travel.

This show really reflects the global phenomenon that Dubai has become

Mark Walsh, Director, Arabian Travel Market

As a destination, of course, Dubai itself is becoming increasingly popular, for both business and leisure. In April, Dubai International Airport overtook Heathrow as the airport with the most international passengers in the world, and the upcoming World Expo in the city in six years’ time will only amplify this effect. “This show really reflects the global phenomenon that Dubai has become,” says Mark Walsh, adding that ever since the success of the 2020 Expo bid was announced, the sense of momentum has been “amazing”.