Middle East trade heralds return of physical Arabian Travel Market as the push needed in recovery

‘Let’s get back to business’ sentiment prevails

THE physical return of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai has been heralded as a signal of positive things to come for the travel and tourism industry in the Middle East. And while it wasn’t as busy compared to previous years, the overall sentiment was that those who were there went with intent and purpose.

Mona Faraj, managing director of Dubai-based Insight Out Consultancy, said she was filled with “pride and positivity“ as she walked the show. “A great start in the 1,000 miles journey and a win that we should celebrate and be proud of as a region. Yet again the Middle East, represented by the UAE and Dubai being the regional leaders, has showcased to the world how we can and will go back to in-person event and the value exhibitions bring.

“Yes, it was smaller; yes, it had fewer international
visitors; yes, fewer representatives per brand; yes, smaller stands for budget
reasons but those that are there are there for business.”

That was a sentiment shared by Mamoum Hmedan, managing director, Middle East of Wego, “The number of ATM visitors and exhibitors were both down a bit this year but it made it easier to move around and the people that were in attendance were more serious about getting business done.”

His boss Ross Veitch, CEO and co-founder of Wego, who had to miss his first ATM in 10 years because of travel restrictions from Singapore, said, “That Dubai is able to host a safe and successful in-person travel trade show this week is a sign that MENA will be one of the first regions to bounce back strongly. Wego is already seeing this reflected in our forward booking data which is up significantly since KSA re-opened for international travel earlier this week. We expect to see this continue to ramp as more Saudi’s get vaccinated and become eligible to travel again.”

Muzzammil Ahussain at the Seera Group stand: “ATM was the push that the travel and tourism industry needed in the recovery phase.”

Muzzammil Ahussain, executive vice president, Seera Group, called it “a natural transition back to the industry event, as we saw positive developments in the last months on how the Middle East has tackled the pandemic, undertaken precautionary measures to contain the spread of the virus and rolled out robust vaccinations drives”.

“ATM was the push that
the travel and tourism industry needed in the recovery phase.”

For travel executives based in Dubai, attending a physical event wasn’t as novel for those that were not UAE-based, said Faraj. “UAE has gone back to physical meetings and internationals since late 2020, so it’s not new to us but to many others it was.”

Remo Giovanni Abbondandolo, senior vice president, Middle East of checkout.com observed that while the event was obviously smaller, “KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) made sure to have a big and strong presence”.

For him, it was a good break from the “distractions of day-to-day Zoom
calls and emails, “which reminded me how important it is to
maintain personal connections by simply bumping into someone who you haven’t
seen for ages. I am lucky enough to still have lots of freedom in the UAE
so it wasn’t the first event.

“I feel the exhibitors appreciated the visitors who were walking
around. It’s like when you go to visit a remote island which is very hard to
reach and doesn’t get many tourists but their neighbours have better
infrastructure and local people are super nice with you.”

Faraj said she observed much wider alleys, sanitising stations as well as a vaccination station allowing UAE residents to take their first jab if they haven’t done so. “There was a sense of ‘let’s go back to business’ so less public relations and catch-ups as you often had in shows and more on “how can we improve business? What are our opportunities?””

Seera Group used the opportunity to launch its partnership with Klook, which will see the two entities create a one-stop digital platform with end-to-end content and inventory management solutions as well as ALmosafer Concierge for luxury travellers from Saudi Arabia.

Said Ahussain, “It was much busier than anticipated which is a good sign
for what lies ahead and the future of tourism. It feels very safe as all
measures were undertaken to ensure the protection of the delegates, exhibitors,
and attendees. Honestly, it does not feel much different from two years ago.  

“We have seen interest for inbound tourism, given the large-scale
projects that Saudi Arabia is undertaking. Travellers finally have access to
the Kingdom as it eases restrictions and is opening for tourism. We have seen
momentous attention for outbound travel as well as since the borders this week.”

Mahmoud Osama, director of sales, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, called ita well-organised event with added COVID safety guidelines. It exceeded the expectation of the exhibitors in spite of the limited number of visitors”.

And he added, “It was exciting to re-connect again and we are hopeful that the travel industry in Abu Dhabi will start very soon.”

At the event, Ali Al Shaiba,
executive director of tourism and marketing at Abu Dhabi’s Department of
Culture and Tourism, announced that Abu Dhabi planned to remove Covid-19
quarantine restrictions for international travellers from July 1, except for
visitors from India, and expand its green travel list to boost tourism in the emirate.

“How we are going to
move forward in 2021 … Abu Dhabi will be open for everyone with no quarantine
protocol starting from July 1,” he was quoted in this report. “We are
going to welcome everybody to Abu Dhabi with a different [travelling] protocol
but no quarantine.”

As
for what they would have liked to see changed, Faraj said, “Exhibitions will
not go back to 2019 levels in my opinion and I don’t think they
should but I do wish to see more tech companies and
more destinations (they were not there due to travel restrictions) and
every hotel brand present too.”

Abbondandolo said he would have liked to see more
exhibitors, “perhaps by allowing to register to ATM only people with a
vaccine/PCR . I am not sure how the virtual ATM will be but I don’t think
I will attend that, it won’t make sense.”

Yeoh Siew Hoon May 23, 2021 at 08:39AM

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