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    Mastercard: Top 5 emerging trends at Arabian Travel Market 2024

    Despite the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism in The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region is witnessing a remarkable resurgence, with airports and hotels experiencing unprecedented growth in the region's recovery phase.
    Source: The Heart of Europe. Floating villas and artificial island living are among the top sought after emerging experiences travellers are longing for.
    Source: The Heart of Europe. Floating villas and artificial island living are among the top sought after emerging experiences travellers are longing for.

    This is according to Haitham Mattar, managing director, Middle East, Africa and South West Asia, IHG Hotels & Resorts, who opened the 31st edition of the Arabian Travel Market 2024 (ATM), under the theme “Empowering Innovation: Transforming Travel Through Entrepreneurship”.

    The vibrant event is held annually in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and welcomes professionals from the global travel industry, generating over $2.5bn of new business over four days.

    The opening session entitled “Trends Shaping the Future of Hospitality in the Middle East”, brought together senior representatives from IHG Hotels and Resorts, Marriot International, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Banyan Tree Dubai, Mastercard and Silkhaus.

    The diverse panel provided a broad perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing today’s hospitality industry.

    Amnah Ajmal, executive vice president of market development EEMEA Mastercard commented on the key revelations coming out of this year’s ATM.

    Referencing new insights from the Mastercard Economics Institute, which delve into tourism in the six-country region of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Ajmal said the GCC region stands out as one of the most resilient tourist hubs in its post-Covid recovery.

    Source: The Heart of Europe. Strategically located in a self-sufficient holiday destination spanning six islands, The Heart of Europe's transformative destination will seamlessly blend European architectural charm with top-tier hospitality, offering a rejuvenating experience for travellers against the backdrop of tranquil beaches.
    Source: The Heart of Europe. Strategically located in a self-sufficient holiday destination spanning six islands, The Heart of Europe's transformative destination will seamlessly blend European architectural charm with top-tier hospitality, offering a rejuvenating experience for travellers against the backdrop of tranquil beaches.

    The institute reports that during Covid, industry-wide inbound travel spending dropped significantly within the GCC – around 13 percentage points lower than the rest of the world. Tight restrictions, particularly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), affected religious and business travel in the region. However, travel bounced back in 2021 to close this gap.

    In 2022, the GCC’s resilience became apparent, and with smaller states leading the charge, the region outperformed the entire international travel industry’s recovery by 40%. It also surpassed the recovery of the top-10 highest-spending destinations by about 60%.

    A key highlight remains visitors’ spending habits in Dubai and the KSA in 2022 in comparison to those in London and Paris.

    "London and Paris are known for attracting high-spending tourists, but visitors to Dubai in the UAE and to KSA outspent them on payment cards in 2022. On average, visitors to Dubai spent around $300 more per card in 2022 compared with those who visited London or Paris,” Ajmal said.

    Emerging trends: Sustainability and AI

    What visitors to the region are choosing to spend Dirham on and how they’re choosing to travel, is of even more particular interest. Small and start-up tour-operators would do well to take heed of these trends when curating their travel packages.

    "Two trends we have seen coming to the fore in particular from the consumer research are sustainability and AI – particularly among younger travellers under the age of 45," says Neal Jones, chief sales and marketing officer EMEA at Marriott International. "Being ecologically responsible is moving from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’ for many of these travellers and will only become more so."

    • 1. Sustainability: To this end, an increasing number of hotels are looking to align themselves with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that include climate change, renewable energy, reducing poverty and protecting life below water.

      Data emerging from the region shows that 70% of travellers from the UAE and KSA have looked at sustainable accommodation options; 83% would pay more for environmentally friendly accommodation, and over 40% say they consider the environmental impact of their travel plans.

      The demand in the future will - not surprisingly - come from the next generation, says Ajmal – a market segment that – as young as they are - is already conscientising today’s travel consumers by putting pressure on them to make eco-friendly choices, a shift that is reflected in current data reporting a high demand for eco-friendly resorts in the GCC.

      Meeting this need, it is hardly unexpected, therefore that the first St. Regis Resort at the Red Sea and the debut of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve brand expected at month’s end are part of a destination that focuses on sustainable tourism and exquisite services, and have been designed to operate 100% off renewable energy.

    • 2. Artificial Intelligence: 50% of travellers from the UAE and the KSA have admitted to using AI in planning a holiday. 95% say it has influenced their choice of holiday destination; 77% plan to use AI for holiday planning in the future.

      But, AI is also being progressively integrated and optimised within the development and management of eco-friendly hotels and resorts in Dubai. In the sphere of food-waste reduction, hotels and restaurants are demonstrating a commitment to sustainability by implementing specialised artificial intelligence programmes.

      Sandeep Walia, chief operating officer for the Middle East at Marriott International, highlights that establishments taking this pledge leverage tailored AI solutions designed to minimise food wastage. One such system includes a camera embedded in bins to take photos of food and a scale to weigh the food as it is thrown away.

      The AI programme identifies which food items are most frequently wasted, thereby helping chefs to adjust their purchases and save money.
      The weight is used to calculate the cost of the wasted food. After an initial training period, the system becomes automated and requires minimal time and effort on the part of the hospitality staff.

      Source: The Heart of Europe.
      Source: The Heart of Europe.

    • 3. Artificial island travel: The number of ultra high-net individuals travelling to Dubai is set to double by 2030 and of particular interest is the demand from these individuals for artificial islands as destination journeys, where a balance of privacy and human inter-connectedness and community is fostered. The Heart of Europe in Dubai – characterised by floating villas and stunning beachfront holiday homes - is one such example that caters just to this need and is fast becoming a sustainable investment and second-home destination.
    • 4. Solo travel: 70% of travellers from the UAE and KSA have a had a solo holiday in the past three years, and are choosing solo travel as a means to reconnect with themselves and those with shared interests. Representatives from The Ritz-Carlton Yacht reported from ATM2024 having had many solo traveller enquiries.

    • 5. Dupe destinations: 30% in the UAE and KSA are planning to spend time and money at a holiday destination that is similar to a travel holiday destination on their travel bucket list but closer. The place could informally be said to be mimicking the original place’s attractions, scenery, or experiences. Dubai’s Heart of Europe, which is set to open its doors in early 2026, looks set to offer just this, with the resort looking to add on skiing experiences to its basket of offerings in the near future, as well as offering coral reef diving excursions.

      Kleindienst Group, the developer behind the Heart of Europe megaresort, which forms part of a network of man-made islands called “The World,” has set up The Coral Institute there to this end. The property developer is planning to create up to 500,000 square meters of coral reef.

      The new 466-key InterContinental Resort Portofino promises to strengthen IHG Hotels & Resorts' luxury and leisure portfolio in the region.

    About Katja Hamilton

    Katja is the Finance, Property and Healthcare Editor at Bizcommunity.
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