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Arabian Travel Market 2014: What To Expect

Arabian Travel Market 2014: What To Expect

This year will see around 2,500 exhibitors and 66 national pavilions as industry players look to tap into the region’s lucrative travel and tourism sector.

Next week the travel industry will make a bee-line en masse to the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre for the annual Arabian Travel Market (ATM) between May 5-8.

DWTC hosted 73 new events last year, which reflects the UAE’s broadening MICE profile. But it’s the regular blockbusters, like ATM, which always leap out of the events calendar, luring visitors from all corners of the globe.

This year will see around 2,500 exhibitors and 66 national pavilions while visitor numbers are expected to exceed 21,000.

So what is it that makes ATM enduringly popular?

Partly it’s the show within the show, whether it’s life-like dinosaurs roaring their approval, opulent supercars gleaming in the corridors or colourful dancers prancing around national tourism stands.

From one year to the next, you never quite know who, or what, you’ll see around the corner.

Travel is an outgoing, ever-changing industry on any day of the week, so the opportunity to reach out, in one concentrated four-day burst, and make a bit of noise in a city like Dubai – outgoing, ever-changing and not averse to promotion – always counts in ATM’s favour.

Ultimately though, it’s ATM’s business focus, the four-day cycle of meetings, seminars and functions, that’s the perennial draw. CEO attendees and panelists lend credibility and topics are, by and large, felicitous (although fingers crossed there’s more seats in the press area this year).

Given the meteoric growth of the region’s airline and hospitality industries, it’s an exhibition that all connected suppliers must attend; hosted buyers can gain access to key decision makers; and for media, it’s the chance to see everyone under one rather large roof. All the elements come together.

This is the first ATM after Dubai won the Expo 2020 bid, and we should get to hear more on how the plans are shaping up.

In fact, we did have an announcement pre-show, giving us a bit more on the overall construction timeline, although I haven’t yet seen details on the hotels, which I’m sure will come.

It’s interesting that operators such as Viceroy and Langham Hotels recently unveiled new Dubai management contracts before the show too; the days when companies ‘banked up’ news has gone.

But I expect we’ll still hear a steady stream of news. GCC operators will be out in force (exhibitors up 11 per cent) and there should be plenty of positive signals from the ‘Brand USA’ pavilion, given the mounting capacity that’s flying in from the Gulf.

The region’s cruise sector entered choppy waters in the global downturn and Arab Spring, but now appears to be full steam ahead with infrastructure investment and easing of visa regulations – and that’s reflected in larger numbers at the Cruise pavilion. Other show-staple topics include travel tech (up 22 per cent), luxury and health tourism.

Few shows blend the regional and international quite so effectively, and that’s undoubtedly another of ATM’s attributes, together with the Dubai ‘integration factor’.

Delegates flying to the show on Emirates can claim 10 per cent off economy and business class tickets; and international guests will be flying in on one runway rather than two, as the much-publicised runway repairs programme gets underway.

Social media will be a fiercely fought promotional battleground and you can read some interesting tips on the ATM site on how delegates can use social media to maximise their returns.

So are there any downsides to ATM? Well, splashing out on a stand is not a decision companies take lightly.

Assessing ROI is always notoriously tricky in the exhibitions sphere – do you measure it in firm deals, or prospective ones? Promotional costs always have to be put into a wider business context.

ATM moved from a price-per-metre model to a “value-based” pricing system two years ago – taking more into account where stands are located and their overall visibility. It assesses how many open sides the stand has, and whether it is a ‘space only’ or a ‘shell scheme’.

An ATM spokesperson said: “The result is a much fairer pricing system with prime locations priced at a premium rate whilst at the same time providing a variety of budget options for companies.”

I’m aware of operators that won’t be attending, either saving money on stands and arranging appointments around the periphery, or simply choosing to opt out altogether. British Airways is among the high-profile absentees and Kenyan Tourism Board is another not attending, citing budgetary constraints.

The phrase I’ve often heard from the non participants is their brand or message will be ‘lost’ amidst all the noise, although perversely that’s the very reason why most people come – ATM revels in the whole see-and-be-seen factor. Travel is competitive and crowded, and that’s the commercial reality, whether you’re inside or outside the exhibition halls.

For the hundreds that will be attending next week, the round-the-clock meet-and-greets should prove stimulating – as well as draining.

But most of us come back year after year, acknowledging there is a time for ATM – and particularly in an industry as fast-paced, disparate and scattered as travel.

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