Surfing works like a charm if you’re looking forward to flying
The next time you hop on a plane, look around you and watch what business people are doing. Before they strap themselves in or pull a digital book out of the ether, they are likely to take out their laptops and either do some business or check their next travel destination deal and hospitality discount checklist.
The days of travel and booking agencies are long gone.
Middle East travel businesses are catering to the region’s modern travel preferences by migrating to a digital storefront.
“By connecting the industry, harnessing bold technologies and finding new ways to make travel more rewarding, the Middle East’s online travel industry can sustain its recent momentum. It will also be prepared for the future Arab traveler, born in the Internet era, who demands different approaches across devices. This is the role the industry needs to play in order to define the future of travel over the coming decade,” said Antoine Medawar, Vice President for Middle East and North Africa at Amadeus, a travel technology business.
Medawar said this ahead of the recent launch of the 2017 Middle East Online Travel Overview, which the company co-sponsored.
The study estimates that total gross bookings in the Middle East for air, hotel, car and tour services tallied $74bn in 2016, which is estimated to grow annually at eight per cent between now and 2020.
Of this total, online travel bookings comprised a 29 per cent share, which is forecast to reach over 40 per cent by the year 2021.
“It’s also important to highlight that creating a shopping experience in the digital world requires many of the same considerations as the physical world,” comments Graham J. Nichols, Managing Director of Amadeus Gulf.
The below data addresses the fact that traditional travel and tourism companies need to evolve, if they are to compete and meet today’s traveler needs.
Marie Abiad, Strategic Planning Director, MEC, a media company, says that, while working on a travel brief, “we noticed that, surprisingly, in the region, people don’t spend as much time to book flights and hotels as they do in other parts of the world.”
Globally, consumers take 30 to 40 days from search to booking, whereas in the region, it’s seven to 20 days.
However, Stanislas Brunais, Senior Director – Performance, OMD, says that the lead time and conversion was longer – sometimes even more than 30 days. But bookings for travel within the GCC tend to be done rather quickly – a maximum of three to four days.
“Conversion is more skewed toward desktop, either because the mobile experience is bad or because people are more inclined to share their personal details on desktop,” Brunais adds.
Then comes the issue of trust of course, with 62 percent of Middle East consumers worrying about having their personal information hacked via their mobile device, according to a 2017 PwC report.
Data from a 2017 research by YouGov says that many millennials aren’t vacationing like their parents’ generation.
“Unlike their elders, today’s youth want individualized experiences that explore local culture — a need largely unmet by traditional travel and tourism companies,” it said.
“Chains such as UAE’s Jumeirah have bucked the trend by adapting to the millennial market with more targeted marketing efforts,” it added.
Red Blue Blur Ideas (RBBi), Dubai’s first accredited usability & digital marketing agency in the Middle East, released its 2017 “State of Search in MENA Airlines Industry,” which explores the current effectiveness of search marketing for the airline industry.
RBBi revealed that the online customer experience was dramatically enhanced over the last five years through the development of new services, such as Google Flights, Knowledge Graph and Google City Guides, making it easier for travellers to quickly access all the travel information that they need.
“Understanding the decision-making path of travellers is essential for the Middle East aviation industry to target their efforts and position themselves ahead of the competition,” said Naguib Toihiri, SEO Department lead at RBBi.
The study’s findings show that more than 55 per cent of travellers use a search engine as their first step when making travel arrangements and 60 per cent of leisure travellers use search engines to initiate their search for travel information.
“Google dominates search engine platforms with 94 per cent of the market share in KSA and UAE being in Arabic, suggesting airlines should focus on Arabic content. A comprehensive content analysis showed that only a few airline brands have optimised their URLs using Arabic characters, a significant missed opportunity,” said the research.
“Google’s findings indicate that leisure passengers make 32.5 visits to 10.3 websites in 4.2 categories prior to booking. Travel brands that are not present at this crucial stage of the user journey risk is losing out on bookings.”