Amadeus hosts industry-shaping discussion titled “Does the Middle East have a Globally Competitive Online Travel Sector?”

The Middle East traveller is evolved, discerning and ever ready to embrace new technology. The USD 8.6 billion online travel market is set for further significant growth in the region and validates this observation. However, online travel agencies must put in place a solid overarching strategy to ensure that their performance, expansion and services to match this growth, according to Hijazi Natsheh, General Manager, Marketing, Cleartrip.

Natsheh’s comments came during a roundtable discussion on the Middle East online travel sector hosted by Amadeus, a leading technology partner for the global travel industry. Titled ‘Does the Middle East have a Globally Competitive Online Travel Sector?’ the discussion was held on 10 April at the Shangri-la Hotel in Dubai.

The initiative brought together experts from the online travel segments to examine the status of the Middle Eastern online travel market in comparison to the rest of the world. The panelists also delved into the factors that hinder growth as well as opportunities that players in the industry must leverage in order to drive successful online businesses.

Chaired by Ahmed Youssef, Regional Director of Marketing and Operations, Middle East and North Africa, Amadeus, the panelists included Basema Al Jaberi, Senior e-Commerce Specialist, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA); Hijazi Natsheh, General Manager, Marketing, Cleartrip; Stephen Leeds, Emerging Products Business Leader, Visa Middle East; and Mona Faraj, Managing Partner Insights Management Consultancy and Middle East Market Analyst, PhoCusWright.

“Visa is finding that increasing numbers of shoppers in the Middle East are booking their holidays online as the number of payment cards, both debit and credit, are increasing in number. This is a good indication that customers are increasingly recognizing the convenience, safety and security of using payment cards.

With one of the youngest, most online savvy populations in the world, we are confident that there is enormous potential in the Middle East for e-commerce in the future – and this is being aided by the active support of governments, including the UAE and other GCC countries in particular, is encouraging the growth of online payments for utility and other everyday transactions.” — Stephen Leeds, Emerging Products Business Leader, Visa Middle East

“Since 2007, the TRA has paid particular attention to developing initiatives and regulations to facilitate e-commerce. With a view to enabling secure electronic transactions and protecting consumers who buy goods online, we have focused on promoting the development of the legal and business infrastructure. As a result, the UAE has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of online transactions over the last few years.

The trend is also true for travel related purchases. Undoubtedly, the region’s online travel sector is poised for exponential growth backed by the government’s efforts to improve the security and reliability of electronic transactions and develop a solid electronic infrastructure.” — Basema Al Jaberi, Senior e-Commerce Specialist, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA)

“There may not be any magic formula for global players and start-ups to secure success in the Middle East online space, but paying close attention to some basic and vital elements can go a long way.

“Businesses must prioritise understanding their prospective customers and purchasing behaviours and adapt product offerings to meet diverse needs. Influencing these purchasing behaviours by identifying and introducing new ways of search that speak to the new generation Y will ensure a wider, diversified reach. Furthermore, looking at services beyond bookings and engaging with customers throughout the travel journey – pre-trip, in-trip and post-trip – will enable businesses to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive environment.” — Ahmed Youssef, Regional Director of Marketing and Operations, Middle East and North Africa, Amadeus

“Recent statistics released by PhoCusWright reveal that gross bookings made in the Middle East online travel sector, both through direct channels and online travel agencies, grew an impressive 18 per cent in 2012 to an estimated US$10.5 billion and are expected to increase by 22 per cent in 2014 to US$15.6 billion.

“Evidently, the region is an emerging online market with strong growth potential. However, there still exist certain disparities within the Middle East in terms of stages of development, consumer shopping behaviours and technology adoption, as a result of which the region still lags behind the rest of the world. Nevertheless, on-going investments by the governments and private sectors to support the travel sector are significantly contributing to enhancing the Middle East’s global competitiveness.” — Mona Faraj, Managing Partner, Insights Management Consultancy and Middle East Market Analyst, PhoCusWright

The discussion also touched upon crucial subjects including factors that hinder the growth of online travel agencies, absence of payment gateways, the role of the industry in educating consumers on the use of the online platform, and opportunities for new established players from developed markets entering this space in the region.

The event comes on the back of Amadeus’ efforts to engage with experts and initiate dialogue among industry leaders on subjects that impact the wider travel and tourism industry.

Middle Eastern online landscape - Infographic

Middle Eastern online landscape – Infographic