DUBAI–The travel ecosystem in the region will witness radical changes in the next 15 years driven by a combination of government policies, socio-economic trends and geopolitical forces. Five major effects have also been identified as factors that will largely define the change. These include the population effect, the ‘beyond oil’ effect, the infrastructure effect, the gateway effect and the information effect.
The findings have emerged from Amadeus’ latest report on the regional travel sector. Titled Shaping the Future of Travel in the Gulf-Cooperation Council (GCC):Big Travel Effects, the report was launched in an event held on 5 June at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.
Researched and collated by Frost & Sullivan and Insights and commissioned by Amadeus, the report examines and contextualises the evolution of a new,highly connected, personalised, and sustainable travel landscape in the Gulf region over the next 15years. The report analyses the findings of a survey of around 1,000 travellers from the region as well as the observations of thought leaders in the travel industry.
The study brings to light the crucial role played by the region’s coming-of-age population comprising largely of digital natives who demand complete round the clockhigh speed connectivity. The report further claims that these tech-savvy youngsters who instinctively turn to mobile internet for travel solutions will plan, book and manage their options within the cyberspace, requiring travel service providers to move to the next level in terms of connectivity.
Revealing key findings from the report, Antoine Medawar, Vice President, MENA, Amadeus IT Group, said: “Unfolding of demographic forces such as steady inflow of expatriate workers, robust natural population growth and a growing middle class will facilitate a new and divergent set of traveller behaviours and needs that significantly impact the region’s travel trends.”
The launch of the report was followed by a panel discussion that saw thought leaders and leading travel industry stakeholders from across the GCC region examining challenges as well as lucrative opportunities that are likely to emerge from the continental shift in the region’s travel terrain.
Moderated by Duncan Alexander, Head of Pacific Asia Travel Association, West Asia, the panelists included Ivan Jakovljevic, Industry Head of Travel – Middle East, Google, Terry Kane, Head of Travel – MENA, Facebook, Mohammed Abdulmajeed, Vice President Sales Strategies, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Dr Omar Al Hudaif, CEO, Al Fursan Travel (Saudi Arabia), and Asma Abdullah Al Fahim from European International College.
Speaking about the factor that will drive the region’s travel trends, Facebook’s Terry Kane said: “There cannot be one simple driver that impacts the travel sector, though the demographic and gateway effects will definitely have the maximum impact.” Terry also remarked on Dubai’s plans to go digital, adding, ”With over 4.4 million monthly active people in the UAE logging on to Facebook and more than 3.7 million monthly active people doing so on their mobiles, the future is very much mobile applications!”
Dr Omar Al Hudaif, CEO, Al Fursan Travel perceived technology as the biggest challenge to traditional travel agencies. “Travel agencies should be aware that the current trend is not going to slow down any time soon – the penetration of technology is only going to gather momentum. They need to focus on increasing their value proposition by incorporating cutting edge technologies.”
“With travelers increasingly opting to have control over their itinerary,it is imperative that airlines and travel agencies invest in technologies that facilitate self-servicing,” said Mohammed Abdulmajeed of Saudi Arabian Airlines, adding, “Technology solutions providers such as Amadeus should also focus on fraud prevention. At the moment, there is a compelling need to secure payment gateways if we are to help travellers utilize online options optimally.”
Commenting further on how technology is expected to majorly impact the future of travel, Ivan Jakovljevic of Google, said: “Travel is all about providing an experience to people. This can either be ‘real’ travel that will be limited to premium luxury travelers, or the technology-enabled ‘virtual’ travel that provides audio, visual and tactile experience to millions.” Ivan also spoke about technological innovations such as Oculus Rift, which can potentially facilitate virtual travel experiences.
Asma Abdullah Al Fahimof European International College was of the opinion that the future of travel lies in diverging from the conventional travel options to ‘concierge’ travel. “As a traveller, I look for options that offer solutions to all my travel related considerations, and personalized travel is where I get them from. So it’s important for travel agencies to focus on providing such concierge services in the future,” said Asma. He further pointed out that industries must make it priority to invest in people.
Diversification of economy beyond oil was also explored in depth as a key influencer of travel trends. Concurring that the evolution of specialist tourism sectors such as cruises as well as expanding opportunities in business, medical and sports tourism will significantly impact the travel sector, the panelists observed that the resultant inflow of tourists would enhance hospitality and construction industries, accelerating economic growth in the region.