Hotel operators in the region must strongly monitor their online brand presence and invest in new technologies or they will lag behind, warned experts at the ongoing Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
“The Middle East is a hub between the East and West and we are confident that it will continue to bring in tourists in the future,” said Christophe Landais, managing director Accor Middle East.
“But I think it’s getting more challenging for the operators since the competition is increasing. So you have to get better. The technology is evolving everyday so you have to invest in distribution channels, on the web, and whatever technologies people are using. You have to keep up all the time,” he said.
According to Nadejda Potova, Travel and Tourism analyst at Euromonitor International, hotels in the Middle East have been trying to increase online promotions and their overall online platform.
“That’s because they are seeing that online interest is building up in the Middle East and they are trying to tap into that,” she said.
“Most travellers are now going online, trying to get the best feedback and communicating between themselves. Let’s not forget that in the Middle East, about 60 per cent of the population is young, and obviously the younger generation is on Facebook, they are heavy social media users and that’s certainly something that needs to be explored,” she said.
The regional unrest has also really boosted online- specifically social media usage to very high levels. Between January and April 2011, Facebook subscriptions increased 30 per cent in region, according to research firm Booz and Co.
“Also let’s not forget that a majority of the tourists coming here are still Europeans and they are really on the internet,” said Popova. “They book at the last minute, they search for the reviews, and they book really quickly,” she said.
The overall UK web economy is predicted to expand at 11 per cent per year for the next four years, reaching a total value of 221 billion by 2016, according to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group.
By 2016, the internet is expected to make up nearly one quarter of all UK sales – the highest percentage of any country, the report said.
The worldwide internet economy, worth $2.3 trillion in 2010, will nearly double to $4.2 trillion by 2016, it added.
But while being online and adopting the latest technologies is important, it’s also essential that operators focus on doing it right, said Popova.
“It’s about knowing your clients and consumers very well, what market segments they belong to, and how to promote to them,” she said.
“I don’t think what they are now doing is sufficient for the Middle East. More needs to be done,” she added.
“I will say that the future will make the distinction between the good hotel operators investing in and developing their brand awareness through new technologies, and the one who are not doing it,” said Accor’s Landais.