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China, Saudi, travel tech and innovation, dominate ATM 2019 agenda

  
• Chinese visitors up over 100% & international visitors up 20%
• Massive potential of Saudi Arabia’s new ‘White Oil’ recognised
• Travel & tourism technology now beyond disruption, say experts 
 
This year’s Arabian Travel Market witnessed a 106% increase in visitors from China and a 20% increase in international visitors to the event, which was held at Dubai World Trade Centre from 28 April – 1 May 2019.
ATM has grown to become the largest event of its kind in the region and one of the biggest in the world with visitor numbers smashing through the 28,000 mark for the third year in succession.
This year’s event showcased the largest ever exhibition from Asia, witnessing an 8% YoY increase in total floor space, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka being the largest exhibitors.
Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME, Arabian Travel Market, said: “The continued growth of ATM is testament to the continued strength of the travel and tourism industry in the Middle East.
“It not only brings together travel and tourism professionals from around the globe to discuss the potential of the regional outbound market, where GCC tourists spend over six times the global average. 
“In addition, it draws major inbound players, eager to capitalize on the huge amount of investment that is being put into the region’s tourism infrastructure, including its airlines, resorts, attractions and facilities.”
The 2019 edition, which placed a spotlight on cutting-edge technology and innovation, boasted more than 400 main stand holders with over 100 new exhibitors making their debut. The number of countries represented at ATM 2019 totalled over 150.
 
Identifying the top tourism trends showing the greatest growth potential is one of the most valuable insights ATM has to offer, and this year’s event was no different as it launched Arabian Travel Week – an umbrella brand comprising four co-located shows. 
 
ATM 2019 formed part of the inaugural Arabian Travel Week, as well as ILTM Arabia, CONNECT Middle East, India and Africa – a new route development forum which launched this year and new consumer-led event ATM Holiday Shopper which kicked off proceedings on Saturday 27th April. 
 
ATM 2019 got underway with the ‘Arabia China Tourism Forum’. With the overall number of outbound tourists from China projected to hit 224 million by 2022, according to research conducted by Colliers International, the session explored how Gulf states can boost Chinese visitor numbers by catering to the younger travellers arriving from the Far East. 
 
An expert panel revealed that unique and tech-enabled experiences represent a key component when it comes to convincing younger Chinese travellers to visit the GCC. Panellists noted that China’s free independent travellers (FITs) are looking for attractions that are not available in other markets.
 
Terry von Bibra, GM Europe, Alibaba Group, said: “Smaller groups [of Chinese travellers] are going to new places to discover and have unique experiences – special experiences that they can share with friends on social media, which is very important.
 
Another of the highlights from the Global Stage was an informative discussion on the potential benefits and pitfalls of technology implementation in the Middle East’s tourism sector.  
 
Panel discussion titled ‘The Big Picture – Who Will Sell Travel Best in the Future?’ revealed gulf-based travel and hospitality companies that use disruptive technologies to boost personlisation and remove friction for customers are likely to become future market leaders. 
 
While innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and personalisation technology have the potential to boost efficiency across the industry, panellists emphasised that operators should always consider how new applications are likely to impact the customer experience.
 
Fouad Talaat, Regional Manager of Partner Services – MEA, Booking.com, said: “Some of us think we’re in an era of disruption but I think we’ve passed that already. I think we’re in an era of powerful customers.
 
“We think of ourselves as a customer-first AI company. This means that the application of any new technology is introduced to enhance the experience for our customers.”
 
New to ATM 2019, focused seminar ‘Why Tourism is Saudi’s New ‘White Oil’, was one of many other sessions on the Global Stage. With Kingdom-based industries in direct contact with tourists expected to generate more than US $25 billion this year, an expert panel discussed the opportunities related to upcoming tourism-focused developments and visa reforms.
 
The development of new projects such as The Red Sea Project and Qiddiya, both of which are completely reinventing destinations, and the creation of local attractions thanks to the Quality of Life Vision Realization Program and the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) as well as the roll-out of 30-day Umrah Plus Visas, eVisas and specialists visas for events, the Kingdom looks set to attract more tourists than ever before
 
Dr Badr Al Badr, CEO, Dur Hospitality, said: “We’ve been in the hospitality sector for 42 years and we’ve never seen anything like this. What’s happening now is earth shattering. The change of mindset in terms of opening up this country for visitors – whether for religious or general tourism – is definitely something to be celebrated.”
 
For more information about ATM 2020, visit: https://arabiantravelmarket.wtm.com.

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