Technology to play a key role in the UAE travel sector’s growth
Andrew Robinson, resident partner of transportation and leisure at KPMG Lower Gulf, shares his forecasts on the industry
How do you expect Expo 2020 to contribute to enhancing Dubai’s leisure and MICE offerings?
There will be a clear short-term benefit during the six months of the Expo 2020; however, we consider that the estimated AED25 billion investments in infrastructure capacity will also lead to a sustained long-term growth in the number of leisure and MICE visitors. With this increased capacity, Dubai will achieve its ambition of 20 million visitors by 2020.
How do you expect technology will play a key role in the travel sector in the year ahead?
Technology will continue to have a significant impact on the travel sector in the year ahead. For example, in the hotel sector:
• Online bookings will continue to increase, with providers enriching their websites to offer guests more facilities. Some analysts predict online hotel bookings will grow from 40 per cent in 2012 to 50 per cent by 2016
• ‘Front of house’ operations are expected to witness an increased usage of laptops in rooms and smartphone applications, enabling you to check-in online and control everything, from in-room facilities to the ordering of your breakfast in bed
• In the ‘back office’, the improved use of technology in food and beverage management (planning, ordering and delivery) is making that side of the business more efficient. Data analytics is a key tool used by the industry to monitor guest preferences and model the delivery of its services accordingly
The hotel sector needs to introduce these technological developments in a measured way since one of the key selling points in this region is the quality of service, which many residents will attribute to human interface, rather than technological prowess. For example, I would not expect the Middle East region to be a pilot for the use of in-room ‘robots’ in the near future
What are your predictions for the hospitality sector in the UAE?
The hospitality sector in the UAE will continue to outpace the GCC region’s and will yield double-digit growth. This is consistent with Alpen Capital’s October 2012 GCC Hospitality Industry Report, which predicted that the UAE’s hospitality market is likely to grow by 67 per cent during the five years to 2016, reaching $7.5 billion.
My rationale is that one third of the world’s population lives within three to five hours of Dubai and the emirate continues to enjoy the reputation for being one of the safest places to live/visit. Also, as a thriving regional business hub, it sustains a constant growth of business travellers. The investment in infrastructure around the Expo 2020 site will boost Dubai’s capacity to host MICE events. In fact, we predict a growth in MICE events before 2020, as a result of the recent news that the DWTC is investing in exhibition expansion.
On the leisure side, we are blessed with lovely sea, sun, sand and we have built shopping malls, sporting venues, golf courses and water parks. Tourists need more of these however, so it is great to see theme park projects in Dubai Land taking shape and new parks signing up, such as Six Flags, to bring their attractions here. Continuous investment into these facilities for tourists is required to sustain a growing, but competitive, tourism market in the future.
What are the top three trends that the UAE travel sector needs to look out for in 2014?
The shift in focus from business to leisure travellers will have the following three major impacts:
- More attention to the location and the requirement to have hotel facilities close to beaches, malls and sporting venues
- A growth in the range of hotel and apartment facilities. We will see more two-, three- and four-star properties to cater to families and budget leisure travellers. Hotel operators will be considering introducing other brands to operate these properties to differentiate them from high-end brands
- This will also be reflected in the expansion of budget and charter package holidays to Dubai.
Asian travellers are predicted to grow at a faster rate than European travellers to the UAE and will require facilities to be tailored to their requirements accordingly. The new internet-savvy travellers are demanding facilities to match their lifestyles, with trendy/artistic facilities, built-in applications and technology in their rooms, with minimum fuss.