A Signature Media Publication

Airline Distribution: The Changing Dynamics

‘Change is the only constant’ that best describes airline distribution evolution. However, for many years rather decades, the distribution medium has been consistent. It was only in the last few years that the fast-moving world of technology has brought about a metamorphosis in not just the thinking and behavior patterns of a consumer in everyday life but their overall business mentality.

“There was no existence of anything like a BSP (Billing Settlement Plan) or even a GDS (Global Distribution System) in the market 15 years ago. This was the pure form of distribution” Nasir Khan, CEO of Al Naboodah Travel

As Nasir Khan, CEO of Al Naboodah Travel reminisces, “If we quickly rewind 15 years ago, one will see there was no existence of anything like a BSP (Billing Settlement Plan) or even a GDS (Global Distribution System) in the market. There was a direct channel between the airline and a GSA (General Sales Agent) or a travel agent (TA). This was the pure form of distribution, where the GSA became the distributor of ticket stock, while also being fully responsible for sales and collection. This, in turn, was reported back to the airlines. Subsequently, agents used to make bookings over the phone while manually looking for connections and flights.”

The manual processes had their own challenges but were soon done away with to give way for more automated and seamless systems. The growing technology made life a bit easy but brought with it, its own challenges.

Matthew Powell, managing director – Middle East and South Asia for Travelport has a different take. He says: “In my view, the change has not been much across the travel commerce platform. The model has not really changed but companies have and the process of percolating it down to agents has changed. Subsequently, travel agents have also changed. However, the core distribution model had remained the same up until two years ago.”

“Today, people want real experiences and more personalized approach. Rich content and branding is all about giving the traveler the real experience”
Matthew Powell, managing director – Middle East and South Asia for Travelport

In his opinion, a lot of working aspects of the industry changed with the rise of low-cost carriers in Europe and the world over. “They changed the way the industry functioned by offering unbundling solutions and going direct. This was coupled with the online boom. The impact of which had its bearing on the GDS-airline partnership, with the introduction of merchandising. It was the GDS that gave the airlines options of really putting a value to their ancillary products. This was primarily done through rich content, branding as well as advertising, which was a major change,” adds Powell.

While the change was evident, the impact it had on relevant players – both travel agents and GDS companies – associated with the airline industry was critical.

The ever-evolving role of a travel agent

The impact of the change has had constant ramifications on travel agents in some form or other. This is surprising considering that industry veterans are of the view that the travel agent fraternity lacks qualified professionals. However, it is the very-same non-professional industry that had to and still continues to innovate or even diversifies their business for survival.

The survival for the fittest best suits a travel agent who has had to work around reducing commissions, regular ADMs, rising fees or even dramatic changes and come out fighters. As Khan explains, “Unfortunately, agents need to realize that it is the need of an airline. Airlines are not working for travel agents but for themselves be it directly or indirectly. It is the agent who is the middleman between the airline and client so inadvertently they have to bear the brunt. In the past, there used to be a heavy dependence by airlines on travel agents but things have changed today. They have learned to diversify their business and look for alternative revenue mediums, one of which is the profitable direct medium.”

“The retail travel business will go down while corporate travel will continue to grow. Nonetheless, travel agents will continue to survive and outsourcing will be key”
V Jayaram, managing director of Sharaf Travel

The direct medium undertaken by airlines has undergone a sea change in terms of statistics. The numbers have moved from single digits of three to five percent to double-digit now. This is a result of the change in distribution methods with more lucrative revenue streams. As V Jayaram, managing director of Sharaf Travel says, “The TA is being squeezed from both ends – an airline and the client – which is a catch 22 situation. Neither party wants to pay any extra costs. This leaves the agent with no alternative but to charge a service fee, making it more expensive to buy from them. This indirectly pushes the customer to go directly to an airline which is turn raises the direct booking numbers. As per statistics, current direct sales to airlines stand at 18-22% in the UAE alone. This percentage should ideally have come from a travel agent. However, the airline is looking at their own benefit and this works fine as they do not have to pay any distribution costs. So, revenue goes straight into profit margins. Looking ahead five years from now, these numbers are bound to go up to even 50%.”

While airlines have looked for alternative mediums, the travel agent fraternity has been very fragmented in their approach. A unified stand for business improvement has failed several times due to competitive individualism. However, the change in business models has made travel agents sit up and rethink their business. A result of which is either diversification or emergence of the new segment such as sub-agents. These set of agents were happy to be mere middlemen servicing clients without taking on any responsibility for bank guarantees or BSP payments. They were happy buying from the bigger aggregators.

Jayaram makes a valid statement saying: “The objective of a sub-agent is clear – they want to make a decent retention on their business and keep clients. It was all about the price and convenience. Corporates were happy dealing with sub-agents as they got the attention and price. So in the bargain, the bigger travel agents had to expand their business or look for alternative options. You then had the emergence of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) who were in a league of their own.”

“There is an ever increasing demand from consumers for more bespoke experiences and effective personalization. This demand is answered by airlines and other travel suppliers with new distribution and merchandising strategies and offerings”
Ramzi Al Qassab, commercial director for GCC and Global Partners at Sabre

Agents had to also deal with changing consumer demands and behaviors with the rise of social media. Customers were now looking for more personalized options. This made the travel agent get up and smell the coffee. They had to evolve in their role and become consultants rather than just remain mere order takers.

Ramzi Al Qassab, commercial director for GCC and Global Partners at Sabre clarifies saying: “Today, there is an ever-increasing demand from consumers for more bespoke experiences and effective personalization. This demand is answered by airlines and other travel suppliers with new distribution and merchandising strategies, which are being offered through direct channels such as an airline’s website, and also indirectly via travel agents. For agencies, they need to master personalization and position themselves as expert advisors and consultants who deliver tangible benefits to their customers.  While this increases pressure on individual agents and needs for powerful technology, this market dynamic towards more personalized experiences presents significant revenue opportunities for all players in the tourism ecosystem.”

The GDS-Airline relationship

Moving away from the travel agent – airline relationship, the next important association was the airline – GDS relationship which has had its fair share of changes and has also been in a questionable position. Interestingly, though impossible to predict, industry opines that the airline-GDS relationship will continue to exist with innovations.

Powell clearly explains, “We do not call ourselves GDS anymore as we are redefining travel technology. We are more of a travel commerce platform. This is critical, cause it shows how we have evolved as a segment. We have diversified and innovated through several mediums; a simple example is rich content which assists agents to showcase their offerings in real-time.”

Innovations have been the only way GDS companies have kept travel agents ahead of the game. This in turn obviously benefits airlines who in turn profit from the sales. Powell firmly believes that gone are the days of booking a two week holiday for January in summer or even advance bookings. Today, people want everything at a touch of button; real experiences and more personalized approach are the game changers. So, undoubtedly, rich content and branding are all about giving the traveler the real experience.

However, despite constant innovation, the role of GDS companies be it with the airline or agent is still being questioned. So would it mean that the integration of the much-talked-about IATA NDC (New Distribution Capability) would mean redundancy of the GDS?

What is the IATA NDC?

The NDC (New Distribution Capability) standard as explained on the IATA website is a travel industry-supported program (NDC Program) launched by IATA for development and market adoption of a new, XML-based data transmission standard (NDC Standard). The NDC standard enhances the capability of communications between airlines and travel agents. The standard is open to any third party, intermediary, IT provider or non-IATA member, to implement and use. It also enables the travel industry to transform the way air products are retailed to corporations, leisure, and business travelers, by addressing the industry’s current distribution limitations: Product differentiation and time-to-market, Access to full and rich air content and transparent shopping experience.

Impact on the industry 

“NDC is nothing more than a vehicle to the next wave and how distribution is will really change. Travel overall is a very personal thing. So, it is important to understand how are we making it personal? The days of just walking into a travel agents office and them being order-takers have changed”
Dean Wicks, chief flights officer at Wego

The implementation of NDC and its implications are yet to be gauged. There are several opinions either for or against it but one common sentiment that resonates with the industry – The NDC will bring about change.

Dean Wicks, chief flights officer at Wego.com clearly describes NDC as just the beginning, it is just about setting a standard. He further explains: “It is nothing more than a vehicle to the next wave and how distribution is really going to change. Travel overall is a very personal thing. So, it is important to understand how are we making it personal? The days of just walking into a TAs office and being an order taker has changed. TAs have to add value to their offering to remain in the business chain. The key is clearly evolution coupled with innovation.”

A further understanding is provided by Rajendran Vellapalath, CEO of TPConnects who says, “The industry is still unclear about NDC, its functionality, benefits, and challenges.  There are concerns from travel agents on the impact of NDC and loss of segment fees provided by GDS. We, as a company, in order to address the NDC issue have set up two separate departments – one caters for airline IT services and the other – travel agent support. Travel agent support is a travel aggregator platform wherein we have aggregated contents from all three GDS – Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport. In addition, we also have direct connections with Ukraine International Airlines, American Airlines, and Lufthansa among the many, who are NDC compliant.”

So, how does a travel aggregator platform benefit a travel agent? Rajendran clarifies that the aggregator platform will offer agents a combined feed from all NDC compliant carriers as well as the GDS. This gives them the ability to choose the best option for their benefit. The only area of concern is how agents will settle the GDS commissions and incentives? “This is a question which has to be addressed between the airlines and agents,” affirms Rajendran.

“The industry is still unclear about NDC, its functionality, benefits, and challenges”
Rajendran Vellapalath, CEO of TPConnects

Wicks subsequently highlights other topics such as Big Data, artificial intelligence or even bots. However, he explains that one needs to understand, it is ultimately all about being able to mash all of this together. NDC is all about a standard making it easy for companies to communicate with clients. Now travel agents though NDC will be able to offer more personalised services to their clients, which makes them more engaging. The challenge now is to keep up with innovation while adapting to more technology driven products. There is also a whole new stream of companies that have emerged which are technology aggregators and are part of the new distribution system. These companies are able to deliver a unified product that can actually go out to masses of OTAs, traditional agencies, or people can even take those APIs and tweak it to their own needs.

Wicks further added: “To cite an example, a company like TPConnect becomes an API aggregator resulting in what one would call a Super API. This comes to the question, what is a Super API? Agents are currently able to procure rich content products from airlines such as flight options, seating, meals etc. However, add to this an understanding of a travelers pre, in and post journey details; coupled with additions of a concert ticket, ground transportation options or even hotels. If you have these current standard APIs which are IATA NDC standards and add in all the other ancillaries APIs, you create a super API. This is where airlines are looking for ancillary revenue.

The GDS impact

Having understood the impact on the overall travel business, what will be the impact of NDC on the GDS players? Al Qassab from Sabre asserts that the company fully supports NDC and all other modern API, XML and messaging protocols. “In fact, we see great value in this for branded fares and ancillaries, as well as dynamic pricing, dynamic packaging, and supplier-driven offers and marketing. We continue to be actively engaged with the NDC program and we are NDC Level 1 certified as an aggregator,” Al Qassab explains.

Elaborating further Powell states, “There was a lot of inaccuracy about the NDC program which still exists. One of the important questions – Would the NDC do away with the GDS?  In my opinion, the NDC was not launched with this goal. The idea was to get more standards on how to distribute ancillaries like rich content, branded fares, and fare families. There is also an opportunity for us to kind of go directly to the airline host systems and talk directly to them. Finally, it all comes down to the direction the industry is moving. It is also early days in these discussions and no one knows how this will work economically.”

Taking an optimistic approach, Wicks asserts saying: “The GDS is doing a really good job at aggregating the APIs, so then, all an NDC does is sets a standard. In addition, the GDS delivers data in mass and scale which is coupled with artificial intelligence. A simple example is loyalty programs. There are so many that it becomes difficult to keep track for a corporate. The ideal scenario would be to consolidate all of them into one big program. Just like the airline consolidation in the form of alliances.

However, Rajendran has a very different take. He is clear that the GDS will not become redundant. “If you see the NDC website all GDS companies want to be part in some way. Technically whether they will be able or not yet unanswered? One needs to understand that the GDS currently work on a 40-year-old technology which was pre-internet era. If they want to upgrade, they have to either scrap it all or build something new with an XML API. This is impossible because you cannot build a new technology over a 40-year old technology; it will be just patchwork. So, unless they scrap their current system, it is very difficult for a GDS company to get into the new era of distribution,” he adds.

The new era of distribution

The new era of distribution is all about technology. It is this very technology that is changing the way people live, function or even think. Today, it is all about being connected, being faster and being more personal.

As Powell explains, “The distribution model will continue to evolve. However, we are still in early days. Desktops and laptops are slowly disappearing and mobile will be the go-to device. There are new technologies replacing desktops such as Microsoft Surface or the Apple Pro. You then have a generation of children who are growing up very fast and do not have a life without a gadget or the Internet.”

The next generation and wave of change will see technological advancements manage everyday life which is the case with wearables. Nonetheless, technology is changing travel and traveling patterns. This change is not easy and particularly with the travel industry will come with a lot of resistance. As Wicks reiterates, “Change can be different in different markets, what may be relevant in one, may not be in another. So ultimately, it is all about getting your timing right.”

The distribution model will see many factors of change such as disintermediation and dynamic pricing come in with the implementation of NDC standards. This will also bring to light the role of metasearch companies and aggregators. Industry participants are of the view that travelers will have to pay for a service to be delivered, as there are no free lunches anywhere.

Finally, we can sum up in the words of Khan, who states: “If travel agents compete with each other, they do not stand to gain. They have already spoilt the market by giving customers the best product coupled with the best discount. Innovation is the way ahead and every player will exist if they innovate.”

NDC and the Need for Network Economics

“NDC is a set of standards. The term is used synonymously with new pricing and distribution methods, such as dynamic pricing, or airline-owned offers, but it is not the same. “

David Smith, Manager – Product Strategy, ATPCO

Emerging methods for airline distribution is a fascinating topic, with a wealth of recent publications and opinion pieces speculating on how the chips will fall.  One thing is clear in this complex, brave new world: new technologies and data standards, used together with a mix of capable system providers, industry organizations, and agile start-ups, will continue to drive innovation and serve airlines under the direction of the IATA New Distribution Capability (NDC). This will be a critical infrastructure to get travel-related products to the market in very creative ways.

Recently, I represented ATPCO at the Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Majorca, Spain, where I asked a few people I met how they would define NDC. I heard many opinions about what it constitutes, from a disruption tactic by airlines to dynamic pricing, to a move to direct channel selling. Very few people gave me the same answer.

NDC is a set of standards. The term is used synonymously with new pricing and distribution methods, such as dynamic pricing, or airline-owned offers, but it is not the same. NDC standards take XML and supply chain processes through IATA Resolutions and Recommended Practices to enable new ways of distributing airline products to the marketplace, fundamentally built around personalization, rich media, and the API economy. This set of standards achieves unprecedented levels of airline control of their own product on the shelf, what they choose to offer, and how they manage the order. In other words, the airline can get the right product to the right person, at the right time and in the right place, and the airline can control the content through a very flexible communication medium.

The fact that NDC incorporates the word “New” is also confusing because most airlines have at least some API capability today. The leaders in distribution innovation are trying all sorts of new ways to get their product to sellers, both through direct and indirect methods. They’re also widening the funnel to turn more shoppers’ attention to locked-in revenue bookings at the highest conversion rate, for the best revenue, and at the lowest cost. What was “New” has become current, or just “business as usual.”

But those few at the forefront are noticing a common problem.  Different API and messaging standards mean a long time to market (typically up to 6 months to build a single connection), a high price of implementation (in the tens of thousands of dollars to get a live seller up and running), and increasing maintenance costs to hold down several standards.  NDC brings a common XML standard, but even that evolves by two new versions each year. Stakeholders implement different “flavors” of each message to serve different business needs and interoperability requirements of non-NDC players.  More stakeholders, many connections, and many standards can all add up to a big headache.

Keep a careful eye on this one. The problem is not large yet (because most airlines have only just started creating one-to-one connections with sellers), but it is coming, and fast.  Over the next two or three years, as the API economy for travel and the number of stakeholders exponentially grow, the number of versions will quickly become unmanageable and our industry will uncover the need for an “exchange” or “hub” for messaging.

This is exactly the kind of issue that industry organizations are formed to solve, through the power of network economics.  Allowing the message translation issue to be solved once, centrally by an industry utility, frees all the stakeholders–airlines, their system providers, and sellers–to focus on what they do best: innovating to get the product to the market consistently, and quickly, generating revenue for everyone to sustain a healthy business.





MEVP invests in Wego

In a recent development, Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) has invested in Wego, in exchange for an equity ownership.

MEVP is investing in Wego as part of the company’s latest equity round alongside MBC Group (Middle East Broadcasting Centre).  MEVP will draw on its roots and heritage in MENA to reinforce and expand Wego’s regional footprint.

“With Wego’s rapid MENA expansion, we decided to seek out smart investors from the region who have deep experience and connections and in MEVP, we have definitely found that and more,” said Ross Veitch, CEO and Co-Founder, Wego.

Elaborating further Walid Hanna, Founder and CEO, MEVP added, “Online travel in MENA is a large vertical and continues to grow rapidly aided by a shift in consumer behavior from offline to online. Wego is highly recognized by travellers in the region, especially Saudi Arabia. The company also has an exciting growth plan which we believe is well positioned to dominate the travel metasearch play in MENA.”

Arabian Travel Market: Growing bigger Responsibly

The Arabian Travel Market (2017) witnessed a 10% increase in visitors from the GCC and a seven percent increase in international visitors to the event.

The event that took place at Dubai World Trade Centre recorded for the second year in succession, visitor numbers that crossed the 28,000 mark. This was a 71% increase over the last five years. Preparations are already on for the 25th year, wherein exhibition stand contracts signed during ATM 2017 for next year are up 38% year-on-year.

The 2017 edition boasted an additional hall, with 466 main stand holders representing 87 countries and over 100 new exhibitors making their debut. The number of countries represented at ATM 2017, taken from all attendees, totalled 157. With all the factors well in place, the organising committee is preparing well for the 25th edition which is aptly takes on the theme – Responsible tourism.

Travel Bulletin Middle East brings to you all the key developments that shaped the event….

Rotana to open 17 new properties before end of 2018

New property showcase by Rotana

Rotana is busy preparing for the opening of its 17 new properties before end of 2018. The new addition will see more than 4,500 keys added to the company’s existing room count.

Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas is set to open in the fourth quarter of 2017 on Saadiyat Beach. The property will feature 354 rooms and suites in addition to 13 private beach villas. The Cove Rotana Resort is currently undergoing a large-scale refurbishment which is scheduled to be completed by Q2 2017.

The first quarter of 2017 was positive for Rotana with the region showing a 4.8% increase in average occupancy rates, as compared to previous year. Properties in UAE witnessed a 3.1% growth in occupancy year-on-year, with Dubai up by 3.7%, Abu Dhabi recording a marginal increase of 0.9% while the Northern Emirates region grew the fastest at 9.3%.

The Group also debuted in Africa with opening of the five-star Kin Plaza Arjaan by Rotana in Kinshasa. The other projects under various stages of development are in Marrakesh, Luanda, Nouakchott, Dar es Salaam and Lagos. Rotana is also looking to strengthen its presence in Turkey by adding two more hotels in Istanbul. With a scheduled opening of the inter-connected properties under “Centro by Rotana” and “Arjaan hotel apartments by Rotana” brands in Q4 2017. A total of four new hotels are set to open in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia this year alone – adding 888 keys to the company’s existing supply of 969 rooms in the Kingdom – and two hotels to open in Qatar by 2019.

Louvre Hotels Group looking to open 10 new hotels in MENA by end of 2017

Louvre Hotels Group looks at 10 new openings in 2017

The Louvre Hotels Group is looking ahead to opening of 10 new hotels in MENA by end of 2017, which will add 1,600 keys to its current inventory. In 2016, Louvre launched 12 properties in key markets including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia and Lebanon and expects to open no less than 10 hotels per year leading up to 2020 and beyond.

The properties include the Royal Tulip The Act, Sharjah (180 rooms) which opened in January 2017; Golden Tulip Ruwi Muscat, Oman (118 rooms); Tulip Inn Downtown Muscat, Oman (180 rooms); Golden Tulip Sousse Palace Hotel & Spa Tunisia (250 rooms); Golden Tulip Regency Monastir Hotel & Spa Tunisia (200 rooms) and Golden Tulip Palmeraie Tozeur Tunisia (100 rooms), all scheduled for opening in Q2 of 2017; the Golden Tulip Doha, Qatar (198 rooms) and Tulip Inn Algier Airport, Algeria (91 rooms) scheduled for Q3 of 2017; Finally, the Tulip Inn Modon Jeddah, KSA (123 rooms) and Royal Tulip Korbous Resort Tunisia (167 rooms) are scheduled for opening in Q4 2017.

Dollar’s new brand 

Rebranding for Dollar Rent A Car

Dollar Rent A Car recently unveiled their new branding. The new logo is simple and rewarding. It is being positioned as the smart choice for a simplified car rental experience.

Travel packages for FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017

Travel packages for FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017

The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017 launched a selection of travel packages, starting from US$ 375 per person*. The 14th edition of the tournament is set to take place from 6-16 December 2017 in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

The packages offered range from a number of three, four, and five-star hotel options. The packages include one Category 2 ticket for three match-days for both semi-finals and third place and finals, a six-night accommodation, service charges, tourism fee, and municipality fees.

There are also incentive-based packages for destination management companies, resellers, hotels and airlines. Resellers will qualify for higher tier values with credit reaching up to 15%, a dedicated ticket concierge and seat selection based on availability.

Two new hotels for Cristal Group this summer

Cristal Group announces two new hotels

Expanding its presence in the Middle East, Cristal Group will add two new hotels to its portfolio this summer. The group is preparing for a soft opening of Bayat Hotel by Cristal and Masaya Hotel & Residences by Emerald. The brand currently has about 1600 rooms in the region and out of these 200 are in the UAE. The Group also recently entered into a strategic alliance with StayWell Hospitality Group aimed at strengthening its global appeal. Masaya Hotel & Residences by Emerald is the first deluxe residence in Erbil. During the first phase, the serviced residences will open while the hotel is expected to be fully operational by third quarter of 2017. Cristal is among the first hospitality brands to enter the Abha region in Saudi Arabia with Bayat Hotel by Cristal.

Renovations at Millennium Plaza Hotel

Millennium Plaza Dubai is undergoing renovation of the hotel lobby, the addition of two new restaurants and a presidential suite. A new speciality restaurant and coffee lounge will be added to the hotel’s food and beverage portfolio.

Mamoun Hmedan, managing director, Wego Middle East, North Africa and India

Wego highlights increased MENA mobile conversion rates

Wego.ae shared insights into the radical evolution of the region’s mobile first travel market.

As Mamoun Hmedan, managing director, Wego Middle East, North Africa and India said: “The region’s travellers were quick to embrace online travel shopping, possibly quicker than in any other emerging market. Today, Wego sees over 70% of searches in the Middle East taking place on a mobile device”.

“However, the most striking difference we’ve seen on Wego for both flights and hotels over the last 12 months are booking transaction numbers on mobile devices, with conversions increasing by 65%,” Hmedan added.

In addition, Wego has remained in the top five most popular travel apps on iTunes and Google Play stores for a number of years throughout the region; its local language, currency and familiar local travel brands proving a hit with travellers. The company was also Wego was the first travel search site for both flights and hotels in the region to produce a mobile product in Arabic.

Scenic view of Japan

JNTO optimistic about ME market

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) reported that for the first time the organization’s strategy is to proactively reach out and welcome more visitors from the Middle East, and help it achieve its objective of 40 million international visitors by 2020.

In just three years since 2013, number of international visitors to Japan has more than doubled, resulting in over 24 million visitors travelling to Japan in 2016 compared to 10.3 million experienced in 2013. Last year, marks the first time Japan welcomed more than 20 million visitors in one year.

Special promotional packages to Japan are created in collaboration with Cathay Pacific, and made exclusively for travellers from UAE. Tokyo-Mt Fuji – Kyoto package includes return flights from Dubai with Cathay Pacific, a one way Bullet Train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, three night accommodation with breakfast at each of Shinagawa Prince Hotels in Tokyo and Hotel Granvia Kyoto, Tokyo city tour, Mt Fuji and Hakone tour, Kyoto city tours and airport transfers by English speaking drivers. The price starts at AED 9,950 per person with twin/double sharing basis, and subject to seasonal surcharges. These special packages including this will be available through local UAE travel agents and valid until end of December 2017.

Kids in focus at Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts’ global programme

Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts launched the ‘Mövenpick Family’ a new global programme designed to take all the stress out of holidays. The new family programme available in all Mövenpick properties worldwide focuses on providing baby essentials on demand; fun healthy menus for children; family services such as kids’ TV channels or babysitters; opportunities to share unique local activities and special family room discounts. Every Mövenpick hotel provides a complimentary ‘On-demand baby essentials’ service which means strollers, bottle warmers, baby baths, toilet rings, portable cots, child-proof electric plugs — all are just a click, tap or swipe away before arrival.

Swiss-Belhotel International (SBI) to triple inventory in KSA

Swiss-Belhotel International expands in Bahrain

Strengthening its foothold in Bahrain, Swiss-Belhotel International (SBI) will triple its inventory of rooms in the Kingdom this year with opening of two new hotels already under development. The Grand Swiss-Belresort Seef will offer 189 rooms and will be ready by the last quarter of the year. There is also the new residences property in Juffair on final stages of being branded as Swiss-Bel residences scheduled to open in December 2017.

Asian expansion for Shangri-La Hotels

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts announced new luxury properties across the Indian Ocean and Asia. The Group is preparing for the opening of its property in SriLanka – the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo. The hotel will complement the Group’s 300-room Shangri-La Hambantota Resort & Spa, which opened in June 2016.

Arrivals into Abu Dhabi on the rise

Q1 guest arrivals up for Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has achieved a rise of four percent rise in number of hotel guest arrivals over first three months of 2017 in comparison to 2016. The increase in hotel guest arrivals was driven by visitor numbers from China and Russia. New visa-on-arrival regulations have seen Chinese hotel guest arrivals surge by 48%, and from Russia by 41%. China has now overtaken India as the largest overseas source market for international visitors, with close to 100,000 Chinese visitors arriving between January and March.

The number of guest nights provided by Chinese visitors also increased by 48% to 138,747, while records of guest nights offered by Russian visitors have seen an increase of 42% to 48,207, as per figures released by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi).

Along with India, the UK, Germany, US and GCC, China has been identified as a key inbound tourism market for Abu Dhabi. Last year, the emirate witnessed a 31% increase over 2015 in number of Chinese guest arrivals, reaching a figure of 231,000 . TCA Abu Dhabi is aiming to welcome 600,000 Chinese visitors by 2021. Guest arrivals from the GCC counties of Kuwait and Qatar also showed double digit growth – 31% and 12% respectively while Saudi Arabia remains the emirate’s fourth largest overseas source market.

More of Africa on offer

Tanzania Mainland, Zanzibar enter into joint collaboration

In a move to boost tourism in the land of Kilimanjaro and spices, Destination Zanzibar entered into a strategic alliance with Zanzibar Commission for Tourism (ZCT), Zanzibar Association of Tour Operators (ZATO), Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (ZATI) and Tanzania Tourism Board. The alliance was held under the banner ‘Tanzania – the land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar & the Serengeti’. The partnership will serve as a forum for networking and collaborations while showcasing Tanzania as a growing market with business opportunities within leisure and business travel sectors.

Six new hotels projects unveiled

New projects for Emaar Hospitality unveiled

Emaar Hospitality Group unveiled six new hotel projects as part of its regional and international expansion plans. The new hotels and serviced residences in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Egypt are under three hotel brands of Emaar –Address Hotels + Resorts, Vida Hotels and Resorts and Rove Hotels.

With 10 operational hotels and three serviced residences, Emaar Hospitality Group now has a pipeline of 26 upcoming projects.

The new projects include Address Dubai Creek Harbour and Address Residences Dubai Creek Harbour in Dubai. The Address Marassi Beach Resort and Address Residences Marassi Beach Resort in Egypt. Emaar Hospitality Group has also already signed a management contract to operate Address Marassi Golf Resort + Spa in the same master-development. These add to upcoming projects of Address Hotels + Resorts in Dubai, Fujairah, Bahrain and Turkey.  Four new projects will be operated under the Vida Hotels and Resorts brand. These include the Vida Dubai Creek Harbour, Vida Dubai Marina and Vida Residences Dubai Marina. Further, Vida Hotels and Resorts marks its expansion to Abu Dhabi with the management contract to operate Vida Beach Reem Island Abu Dhabi and Vida Residences Beach Reem Island Abu Dhabi, both for Aldar Properties.

UNWTO Ministerial meet

Tourism key for economic growth and diversification: UNWTO  

Tourism can be a key driver of growth and economic diversification for the Middle East and North Africa region, this was highlighted at the 2017 Ministerial Forum organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Arabian Travel Market (ATM). Yet, maximizing the power of the sector requires increased regional cooperation, prioritization of tourism in the national agendas and building resilience and sustainability.

The UNWTO/ATM Ministerial Forum concluded that the main priorities for the region include human resources development, public/private sector cooperation, connectivity, technology and sustainability. Issues on discussion included development of domestic tourism by engaging repeat travellers, the support to innovation and entrepreneurship, need to improve quality and ‘perception’ of tourism employment, visa facilitation, intra-regional connectivity and measurement of tourism’s impact through recently launched UNWTO Initiative on Measuring Sustainable Tourism (MST).

Participants further recalled that much of growth of the sector comes from high level of support at policy level it receives from many countries in the region as a tool to diversify oil-based economies.

HE Mohammed Khamis Al Muhairi, under-secretary of the Ministry of Economy, UAE, said that tourism has proven to be one of the main pillars of economic and social development in various countries. He pointed out that the MENA region has strong potential to become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations due to its extensive tourism attractions. He added that the region’s countries are at the threshold of a new phase of tourism growth which requires greater cooperation to ensure maximization of opportunities offered by this sector. He also noted the need to consolidate partnerships at the government and private levels to overcome obstacles to their efforts to enhance the competitiveness of their respective tourism sectors and make the most of tourism’s impact on their growth and development.

The Middle East received 53.6 million international tourist arrivals in 2016. Arrivals decreased an estimated four percent with very mixed results among the region’s destinations. International tourist arrivals to North Africa grew by three percent to 18.6 million.

Two new openings

DAMAC Properties announces two new developments

DAMAC Properties announced the opening of two of its key properties – DAMAC Maison Royale The Distinction and DAMAC Maison Bay’s Edge. The 52-floors DAMAC Maison Royale offers 305-keys of fully serviced deluxe rooms as well as one, two and three-bedroom suites. The other amenities include a spa, recreational facilities and health club amongst others. While DAMAC Maison Bay’s Edge offers 250 keys catering to both business and leisure travellers. Spread across 22 floors, the hotel offers deluxe rooms and one, two and three bedroom suites. Additionally, the hotel also offers separate ladies and gents wellness areas, each housing a jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, showers, lockers and changing rooms.

Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC)

Oman focuses on MICE

Oman is looking to strengthen its position as a MICE destination in the region with opening of its technologically advanced convention centre. The Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC) offers 1,100 hotel rooms along with a shopping mall and business park.

The addition of new hotels – including the Anantara in Salalah and Jebel Akhdar – is expected to add room inventory which is expected to increase by 25,000 by 2020. Other hotels in the pipeline include the 290-room W Hotel Muscat and 310-room Kempinski Hotel Muscat. The Saraya Bandar Jissah now rebranded to ‘Muscat Bay’ will house 398 residential units, hilltop villas and luxury town-houses is also scheduled to open in 2017.

Travel and Tourism contributes a significant amount to the GDP of Oman. Oman’s National Tourism Strategy for 2040 has set out an ambitious target of ensuring that the tourism sector contributes six to 10% of GDP in future. The Sultanate also hopes to employ over 500,000 people in the tourism sector in 25 years with 70% of these jobs filled by Omani nationals.

‘Extraordinary Experiences’ at Four Seasons

Reports suggest that there is a rise in demand for experiential travel looking for more authentic opportunities to immerse in destinations around the world. In keeping with this trend, Four Seasons Hotels and Resort properties in Dubai, Riyadh, Hualalai, Tokyo, Koh Samui and Cap-Ferrat are launching brand new Extraordinary Experiences.

These ‘Extraordinary Experiences’ are a tailored range of experiences that enable access to local culture and provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to discover a destination. From commissioning a completely personalized piece of art and fashion from a sought-after local label in Dubai, to a private dinner for two in the Sky Bridge on the 99th floor of Riyadh’s Kingdom Centre, and trekking with a Four Seasons Volcano Ambassador in Hawaii.

Guests can also immerse themselves in the best of Japanese entertainment, culture and food during this full-day insider tour through Tokyo. First, they will discover the secrets of sumo with private access into a “stable” where wrestlers eat, sleep and train, and observe the rituals and traditions of the sport during a morning practice session. Afterwards, in a dining room inside the stable, they will enjoy an authentic chanko nabe (hot pot) breakfast alongside the athletes.

Subsequently, at the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel, will arrange for guests’ exclusive, two-hour astronomy lesson with the world-renowned scientist Dr. Patrick Michel. From an unspoiled vantage point in the Hotel’s garden – one of the best locations for stargazing on the French Riviera – guests will open their eyes to the wonders of the universe as they pinpoint planets and stars with the guidance of this leading planetary scientist and asteroid expert.

The ‘Extraordinary Experience’ includes a two-night stay in a one-bedroom suite or above. Booking is required at least 45 days in advance.

Bahi now enters Middle East market

HMH launches new brand – Bahi

HMH – Hospitality Management Holding launched their new five-star brand – ‘Bahi Hotels & Resorts’. The new brand ‘Bahi’ has been conceptualised to provide experiences to both business and leisure travellers. The Bahi name personifies the brand’s unique selling proposition ‘Impeccablly Plush’. The first hotel to be branded as Bahi is The Ajman Palace Hotel, HMH’s flagship property in UAE.

GGH inks agreement with Rotana

Rotana signed a management agreement with Golden Group Holding (GGH) for a new hotel project in Muscat, Oman. The agreement was signed by Nasser Al Nowais, chairman of Rotana, and Sheikh Salim bin Ahmed Al Ghazali, chairman of Golden Group Holding in the presence of HE Maitha Al Mahrouqi, undersecretary, Oman Ministry of Tourism, HE Dr Khalid Said Al Jaradi, ambassador of the Sultanate of Oman to UAE, HE Shaikh Salem Samhan Al Kathiry, manager of the commercial office of Sultanate of Oman in Dubai and senior executives.

The new hotel Al Mouj Rayhaan by Rotana will feature 250 rooms, suites and apartments along with amenities and services. The property is scheduled to open before 2020. Once complete, Rotana’s upcoming properties in Oman will add more than 1,600 keys to an existing inventory of 400 rooms in the Sultanate, bringing the total tally to over 2,000 rooms.

TIME Hotels first women-run hotel

TIME’s first women-run hotel

TIME Hotels Management unveiled plans for a new four-star hotel in Dubai’s Al Barsha – TIME Asma Hotel.

The special focus of the hotel is that it will aim for 80% of team members to be female, led by general manager Ghada Mahgoub, with dedicated facilities for female guests. The concept will provide career opportunities for more than 100 women.

The property will feature 232-rooms over six floors, a gym, swimming pool, jacuzzi, four meeting rooms, a business centre and two restaurants, for both male and female guests. Due to open in Q4 2017, plans are in place for two floors of the hotel to be reserved exclusively for female travellers, with dedicated services such as a dedicated room service, a female-only check-in counter, dedicated women-only guest relations, in-house baby-sitting services, in-room tablets highlighting all services such as bespoke beauty products, in-room beauty treatments, as well as enhanced amenities in each room. The hotel will also offer options to book women-only taxis and female-dedicated parking spaces.

TIME Asma Hotel is one of upcoming properties in the pipeline for TIME Hotels in the Middle East, with new properties scheduled to open over the coming 10 months in Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Luxor, Riyadh, Jeddah and Doha.

Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa to be re-launched 

Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa to re-launch in October

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts have announced that it will re-launch the Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa in Oman as a private standalone resort in October 2017. The property features 180 rooms and suites and was previously marketed as part of the adjacent Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

The resort will introduce a team of Shangri-La specialists who will be available to custom-design activities – from pre-arrival throughout the duration of a stay – that cater to different interests and embrace local culture. The re-launch will have the private “Dine By Design” experiences that range from dining on cliffs overlooking the ocean to romantic beachfront settings.

Wyndham Garden forays into Ajman

First Wyndham Garden to open in Ajman

Wyndham Garden will soon open its first hotel in Ajman.

The new property is scheduled to open during last quarter of 2017, the 17-storey, four-star hotel with 179 rooms and suites will cater to business, leisure and corporate travellers including the tech-savvy millennial.

The Wyndham Garden Ajman Corniche with a total investment of AED200 million is the fifth collaboration between R Hotels and Wyndham Hotel Group in the UAE, and the third in the emirate where two Wyndham-branded hotels are present namely Ramada Hotel & Suites Ajman and Ramada Beach Hotel Ajman. The other two are located in Dubai – Ramada Downtown Dubai and Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham.

Cultivating date tourism

Abu Dhabi to promote date as a tourist attraction

Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and Al Foah Company which owns Al Foah Organic Date Farm signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a long-term strategic partnership that encourages visitors to explore the culture of the emirate.

The Al Foah date factory’s diversification into a new leisure attraction is anticipated to add a unique tourism experience to the emirate of Abu Dhabi with development of the site attracting local, regional and international visitors.

Visitors will have the opportunity to understand organic date-picking activities from Al Ain Oasis, which contains more than 147,000 date palms of up to 100 different varieties. In addition, the opportunity to experience all the different phases and steps in the dates manufacturing processes.

Wego list key Ramadan travel destinations

Wego.ae has examined emerging Ramadan destinations for families, couples and singles, and suggests some new and exciting destinations.

“It’s the busiest travel time of the year for Wego audiences and with travel preparations now well underway for Eid holiday travel, we examined new and trending destinations to suit every type of travel group – large, small and even solo,” said Mamoun Hmedan, managing director of Wego Middle East, North Africa and India.

Families – big and small

“Families more frequently select destinations that have a large scope of activities that will appeal to all ages. Many European cities – Munich, Paris, London – all fit the bill, with short flight times as an added bonus. Kuala Lumpur is also a regular family favourite with shopping and halal dining options, along with nearby tropical island resorts such as Langkawi, and the integrated family resorts in the Genting Highlands all within easy reach.”

Turkey has a great diversity which is perfect for families. One should try Trabzon on the Black Sea coast in the northeast of Turkey. A number of hotels are extremely kid-friendly with large suites and fun activities. A stopover in Istanbul can also be considered which is popular with families too. Antalya too offers culture and history with varied resorts.


Dubai is a great city for couples with ample accommodation, dining and entertainment options, and many Ramadan deals on offer. Another recommendation is Baku for its history and beautiful Caspian Sea coastline. The Seychelles Islands are an idyllic tropical getaway offering private, palm tree lined beaches, and beachfront hotels. The Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheikh is another great option, with easy flight connections and a variety of resort style hotels. Activitiies range from swimming along beaches, relaxing in the sunshine or diving in the surrounding Ras Muhammad National Park – Sharm el Sheikh is also popular with couples. There are also great shopping and fine dining options.


For singles, the options are endless. As Hmedan puts it, “Travelling alone has many advantages albeit some destinations suit solo travel more than others.”

For the adventurous soul, head to Kathmandu. There’s no need to be a mountain climber to enjoy the sights and sounds and it’s easy to make new friends with warm, welcoming locals or fellow travellers. Muscat too is perfect for a quick, quiet getaway especially the Hajar Mountains. Many Asian cities are also great for single travellers – Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore are easy to explore and offer a variety of accommodation types for singles to suit any budget.

One size fits all

Hmedan explains: “While matching destinations to suit individual types of travel can be obvious in some cases, there are some destinations that crossover to suit singles, couples and families. South Africa for example is diverse and would happily entertain and engage adults as well as kids, with nearby safari camps, the Cradle Mountain, watersports and varied dining options.”

Georgia is now a hot-spot for Middle East travellers especially the coastal town of Tbilisi, loads of things to do for families and is a great place to explore for singles. It fits all types of travelling styles

Search and shop in less than three seconds

Recent studies by Google state that 40% of consumers will leave a site, if a page takes longer than three seconds to load on a mobile, with 79% unlikely to return.

In line with the emerging trends, Wego.ae has implemented the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) combined with Progressive Web App (PWA), making it the fastest loading mobile travel site.

As Honey Mittal, Wego’s senior vice president, product says, “By rebuilding the static pages using AMP, and the core search experience with PWA, Wego has decreased page load time from around 12 seconds to between .50 and three seconds.”

He further added, “Over 70% of Wego’s searches take place on mobile and increasing site speed was key to upgrading user experience and increasing engagement and conversions. We saw AMP and PWA as a development priority and we succeeded.”

For the search and shop experience, Wego built a PWA using service workers, reducing page load time to less than three seconds for new users, and less than a second for returning users.

The solution has had an impact on Wego’s business. “The loss of potential customers during site loading time has been reduced significantly and we have increased value for our partner’s marketing investments,” Mittal concluded. “The revamp has not only improved user experience but resulted in increasing conversions by 95%.”

ATM 2017 – The Industry Voices

Klaus Ehrenbrandtner – Austria National Tourist Office

Klaus Ehrenbrandtner

What’s new?

We will showcase popular, new destinations and holiday attractions. There will be a virtual reality video section powered by Samsung. Attendees can choose from a variety of 360 degrees VR video clips to dive into an Austrian holiday experiences.

How many years of participation?

We have been participating from the beginning

What is the value to your business?

It is the biggest travel trade show in the region and thus a perfect place to network. We look at it as a platform to get Austrian suppliers together with local travel trade.

In your view ATM means… interaction with everybody active in the travel trade in this region

Hassan Al Ibrahim – Qatar Tourism Authority

Hassan Al Ibrahim

What’s new?

We will be showcasing unique tourism offerings, including top quality luxury accommodation, cultural attractions, family entertainment, festivals and events, as well as shopping, dining and other leisure activities. Along with co-exhibitors, we are providing visitors with insights into the evolution of Qatar’s tourist attractions and services, focusing on cultural attractions and authentic hospitality.

In your view ATM means… a platform for Qatar to demonstrate its willingness and ability to offer innovative products for the regional market



Daniel Ponzo – Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays

Daniel Ponzo

What’s new?

We will present the second edition of our ART Signature Brochure for families and romantic getaways. We will also be expecting to enlarge our product portfolio this year

How many years of participation?

Personally, I have been attending it for few years now, since I was working in KSA and now UAE

What is the value to your business?

The show is a great opportunity to know new trends in technology, product and innovations. It also helps to share experiences, meet new people and suppliers. The show also gives attendees a chance to meet colleagues from the industry

In your view ATM means ………… collaboration and discovering something new every show. It is a unique event in the GCC that gets together professionals from all over the world to create something for the future of people in travel

His Excellency Faisal Al Nuaimi – Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD)

His Excellency Faisal Al Nuaimi

What’s new?

The show is a unique opportunity to highlight Ajman’s tourism attractions and hospitality offerings. We can showcase the Emirate both a destination of choice for many tourists from the Arab World and an important tourist destination globally. We are also optimistic about the launch of the newly opened Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah, which will be part of the Ajman Tourism stand at ATM. The Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD) is keenly interested in showcasing a number of Ajman’s major tourism projects and services. This is part of our strategic objectives in line with the Ajman Vision 2021.

How many years of participation?

Ajman Tourism will participate for the seventh year. The show also gives us an opportunity to enhance bilateral relations, engage with key industry leaders and tour operators in the region through a number of activities and meetings.

What is the value to your business?

ATM provides a unique opportunity for us to connect, network and share industry experience with others, helping us to raise the profile of our destination and harness strategic trade relationships within the industry. The event facilitates business-orientated events and meetings with representatives from various tourist destinations and travel and tourism agencies. We look forward to exploring latest trends and learning about tourism components in regional countries, adopting best practices and applying them to the tourism sector in Ajman with the aim of increasing tourism traffic and investment.

In your view ATM means ………… engaging with key investors in the travel industry, providing a unique opportunity to showcase a number of existing and upcoming tourism projects in Ajman.

Matthew Powell – Travelport

Matthew Powell

What’s new?

We will be showcasing the power of Travelport’s unique Travel Commerce Platform and how it powers technology solutions for the Middle East’s travel industry. Our stand will feature an array of interactive features including demo pods for visitors to experience technologies for themselves and learn more about latest developments including the partnership with IndiGo.

This year, Travelport will focus on introducing the complexity of Power of the Platform. We will be focusing on mobile and ways Travelport is leading digital transformation by connecting all people in travel with all people who travel. The consumerization of travel, driven by mobility and the expectations of the connected traveller will mean true winners in the future.

How many years of participation?

This is our ninth year at ATM.

What is the value to your business?

The event offers Travelport a chance to showcase technology that helps the industry further innovate and exceed the travel buyers’ needs and expectations.

In your view ATM means……. A world-class industry event that provides a perfect stage to highlight Travelport’s power of platform and reinforce its continued leadership in the Middle East

Daniel Naoumovitch – Sabre Travel Network, Middle East

Daniel Naoumovitch

What’s new?

We will be showcasing our New Sabre Red Workspace, the solution that will change the way travel companies work today. We will also be shedding light on two panel discussions – Blurring Lines in Online & Offline Travel: the session will explore the evolving world of travel, online and offline, and discuss the landscape and future of online travel in the region. The second session will be on Sabre hospitality solutions talking about digitalization and pitfalls of hotel websites. The session will highlight why so many hotel websites fail to drive traffic and conversion and what drives success in direct bookings.

How many years of participation?

We have been participating for 12 years

What is the value to your business?

We make sure we are present every year and showcase our latest innovations while we meet our customers and vendors

In your view ATM means….meeting all travel and tourism players under one roof to showcase our latest innovations and present what’s new in this sector

Mamoun Hmedan – Wego Middle East, North Africa and India

Mamoun Hmedan

What’s new?

Wego will be updating the industry on its position as the fastest loading mobile web site in the world, after rebuilding Wego’s static site pages using AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), combined with Progressive Web App (PWA). We will also be highlighting a new commitment to direct support of National Tourist Offices (NTOs) through a dedicated co-marketing campaign team, lead by Wego’s Graham Hills, chief strategic partnerships officer. Wego’s chief flights officer, Dean Wicks, will be sharing insights into radical changes in airfare conversions Wego has seen in the Middle East, the move from desktop to mobile purchases and extensive product updates.

How many years of participation?

We have been participating for five years

What is the value to your business?

The event has provided many opportunities for Wego by introducing industry partnership opportunities as well as an opportunity to share innovative ways we can support partners through our market strength, newly introduced innovations and above all, our engagement with travellers throughout the Middle East.

In your view ATM means…….It is the best opportunity to meet up with all local and global travel players sharing experiences under one roof. It is also impressive to see the footprint of digital/tech providers continuing to grow each year which reinforces our decision to focus on this market