Arabian Travel Market Remains Upbeat During Economic Downturn


HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum opened one of the largest ever Arabian Travel Markets today

Recovery and co-operation set the tone on the opening day of Arabian Travel Market 2009 – the Middle East’s premier travel and tourism event – as regional tourism industry chiefs remained optimistic about their continued growth in spite of harsh global economic conditions.

And with more than 2,100 exhibitors and stand-sharers, from 69 countries, including 70 new-to-market representatives present for Arabian Travel Market 2009 - making it one of the largest editions in its 16-year history - regional and international tourism offices and private-sector companies have pledged to utilize the show to offset the current economic downturn.

Speaking after touring Arabian Travel Market 2009, which runs until May 8 at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Airports, and chairman and CEO of Emirates Airline & Group said, “Travel and tourism demand in the UAE and the region remains strong. In fact the Middle East is the only region which has seen an increase in air passenger traffic in March, when every other region saw a drop. Many of the countries in this region have invested massive resources to boost their travel and tourism infrastructure.

“Increasingly, international hospitality and travel brands are looking to this region as the ‘bright spot’ in the global economic downturn, and are investing here. I am confident that Dubai, the UAE, and the region as a whole, is well placed to weather the current challenges and come out even stronger,” added Sheikh Ahmed.  

These sentiments were echoed by a host of Middle Eastern industry decision makers. Salim Bin Adey Al-Mamari, director general of tourism promotion for the Oman Ministry of Tourism, said the region needed to enhance intra-country co-operation and voiced what he sees as a pressing need to promote the GCC region as a single, multi-experience destination. “Whilst we are all feeling the effects of the economic downturn, we are expecting a speedy recovery. In the first quarter of 2009, we have already seen a 10 percent increase in tourism numbers, which exceeded our targets. In 2008, we saw 1.5 million tourist visit the Sultanate, and for this year we expect to see overall growth of at least seven percent. From here, it is about working as one, the GCC as a holistic destination,” he said.

Al-Mamari also stated that to encourage recovery, it is imperative that destinations and companies increase spend to carve out greater market share, saying they should focus on consolidating their presence in established markets as opposed to entering new ones.

“Events like Arabian Travel Market, which we have been involved in since the start, allow us to promote our inbound and outbound tourism products to a wide-diversity of decision makers from around the world. We have undertaken a comprehensive marketing campaign, both in the region and internationally in Europe and the Far East, to bolster our presence. We really want to enhance awareness in our existing markets as opposed to entering new ones, this makes good sense in the current climate,” said Al-Mamari.

Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority’s Deputy Director General, Ahmed Hussein, added, “We are continuing as planned and we have increased our presence at the year’s event. The Middle East remains well placed to weather the current economic downturn; however what we need to see is more dialogue across the region and the development of products that incorporate the region as a whole, as opposed to individually targeting markets.”

The region’s other legacy carriers, Eithad Airways and Qatar Airways, also utilized the show to outline their long-term commitment to growth, destination expansion and product development.

James Hogan, CEO, Etihad, speaking on the announcement that the UAE’s national carrier would be undertaking a complete $70 million, first class embodiment of its current fleet over the next 18 months, said, “We remain committed to our long-term plans and this year alone we will launch seven new routes and will receive 11 new aircraft. A downturn is exactly the time when an airline needs to demonstrate its commitment to the very highest standards of excellence. The economic turbulence that the aviation industry is currently experiencing will give way to calmer times, and when it does our investment and product innovation will ensure that we have not simply remained competitive, but that we are the market leader.”

Akbar Al Bakr, CEO, Qatar Airways – which is planning six new routes in 2009 and is receiving new aircraft on an average of one per month - said the global tourism industry remained resilient despite the current economic climate and the Middle East aviation industry was the only sector experiencing significant growth with capacity and passenger figures rising. “The state of the global aviation industry amid the current economic situation and concerns over global health are understandable. But whatever is happening around the world will not affect our growth plans. We are committed and remain committed to growth and our expansion is pressing on ahead of schedule,” he said.

The 2009 show also boasts an expanded seminar program, with more than 30 experts discussing a variety of key topics in 18 sessions. This program reinforces Arabian Travel Market’s commitment to promoting increased dialogue and debate to stimulate the market’s recovery.

In addition, a number of key industry reports – including Deloitte’s ‘The Middle East Hotel Performance Review’,’s ‘Recruitment and Retention Strategies in the Middle East Hotel Industry’ and EuroMonitor’s ‘Future Trends for Travel and Tourism in the Middle East’ – will be unveiled during the four-day event.

Arabian Travel Market is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and under the auspices of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Government of Dubai.

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