Aito2013: Middle East is the 'independents' playground'

Aito2013: Middle East is the 'independents' playground'

Travel agents have a “massive opportunity” to increase sales to the Middle East because only 10% of hotel bookings to the region are being made direct online.

Jeff Strachan, until recently former vice president of sales and marketing Middle East and Africa for Marriott International, said figures recently released by PhocusWright showed 90% of global bookings to the Middle East in 2011 came via the trade, with the remaining 10% made online by consumers on hotels’ own websites or by online travel agents.

Dubai enjoyed a higher number of hotel bookings direct online with 15%, which meant the trade was making up the remaining 85% of bookings, said Strachan. The US received around 32% of hotel bookings direct online and Europe 21%.

Strachan said: “This is a massive opportunity for the UK trade. Dubai is an independents’ playground. There isn’t a huge amount of charter flights so this is a perfect opportunity for agents to take reality of the numbers and make a real go of it.”

The UK is the third-largest international market to Dubai after Saudi Arabia and India – and expected to remain one of the top source markets.

Strachan said one of the biggest opportunities for agents was to capture bookings from Generation Y customers, born between 1977 and 1994.

The trade versus direct distribution mix is also unlikely to change because of the significant cost required to do so, added Strachan, now general manager of Insights Management Consultancy.

“The hotel industry in the Middle East is dominated by independent hotel groups, with 55% of the inventory of hotels in the Middle East non-branded, so they do not have the money to invest in technology,” he said.

Hotels also have yet to provide consumers with an easy way to book online if they want to stay in different countries as part of one multi-centre trip.

“The only people that can do it are you (travel agents),” he told agents at this year’s Aito Agents Overseas Conference in Dubai.

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