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Mon 1 Jan 2007 04:00 AM

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Are we breeding a disparate travel and tourism community?

Thomas Tapken, general manager & regional manager, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts Dubai, calls for closer co-operation between every member of the region’s burgeoning, but fragmented travel industry

Are we breeding a disparate travel and tourism community?

There is no doubt the UAE has established itself as a key player in the global tourism industry and that its ambitious development plans have left the rest of the world wondering what it will do next.

But this growth can only be accomplished by the co-operative efforts of all concerned – specifically hotels, the travel trade and the government.

Many in the hospitality industry have long cited the need for a travel and tourism advisory board to promote tourism at a regional level and to ensure all seven emirates contribute to the growth of the country’s tourism product. While Dubai has always been extremely well represented by the global marketing efforts of the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, other emirates such as Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah are also beginning to step up their efforts to market their respective destinations.

But before this can be implemented, we need to look closer at the current relationship between the individual hotels and travel trade parties.

There is a lack of cooperation between these organisations and closer association is required to attempt to introduce an element of balance and collaboration to the industry. However, the highly competitive nature of tourism means there is often an element of mistrust in their dealings with each other.

Although hotels and the travel trade have their own resources to market themselves globally, these efforts are often uncoordinated, sometimes conflicting, and often fail to communicate the wide appeal of the UAE as a tourist destination.

A strategically sound positioning message is therefore necessary to lure overseas visitors.

In general, hoteliers do not openly discuss problems or seek solutions to industry and regional concerns, preferring instead to deal with issues in-house.

While the partial sharing of certain data such as average room rate (ARR), occupancy and RevPAR is practiced by most hotels, there is still a tendency to embellish or withhold figures.Lack of healthy data sharing among hotels and the travel trade means there are gaps and deficiencies in planning marketing campaigns and in using collected pooled data as an accountability measure for tourism promotion programmes.

It is important, therefore, that the industry not only enforces measures to evaluate the success of marketing efforts, but also to assess economic impact, visitor arrivals and the reputation of the UAE. These processes are particularly important for calculating returns on investment and tracking marketplace trends in order to create a cohesive national tourism marketing strategy.

Tracking visitor feedback is also imperative. Lack of attention to visitor needs, poor infrastructure, very little cooperation between the travel trade and the hotels and between local government and non-government can all contribute to a decline in quality.

Whether we like it or not, every facet of our industry is interrelated. While hotels, visitor attractions and tour operators may appear to operate independently of one other, the visitor remembers only the overall image of their experience. Poor performance by one sector can adversely effect the image of the other components.

By sharing information, we can bring issues to the attention of governing bodies and tackle issues such as sustainable tourism, destination reputation, competitiveness and crisis communication.

A strong coordination between hoteliers and the travel trade would elevate standards and provide the level of hospitality guests should receive. They could speak as one to address issues and concerns and identify common goals and how best to achieve them.

Hoteliers in Hong Kong provide a good example of how collaboration can benefit the industry. Their united front means that room rates are better controlled, government issues are resolved faster, and that the relevant authorities take notice.

Joint collaboration in the UAE would provide endless possibilities for sharing information. One option would be to launch a web site featuring examples of best practice. Standards could be set a benchmark and the result would be a better product, competitive rates and ultimately, more satisfied guests.

To ensure the tourism industry delivers quality service, we need to address three main issues:

1. The hospitality industry and the travel trade jointly need to come together and formulate policies and strategies to develop the tourism sector in an economically viable and sustainable manner.

2. Hotels need to be more transparent if they are to work together to achieve shared objectives.

3. Collaboration and ongoing communication is vital to avoid the possibility of giving out conflicting messages to the potential customer especially in times of crisis.

The reputation of the destination is at the heart of every tourism marketing objective and every effort should be made to avoid disparity between the component parts.

If hotels and the travel trade recognise their inter-dependence and start to coordinate their efforts, the result will be a high quality product that will attract the right kind of visitor.

"If hotels and the travel trade recognise their inter-dependence and start to coordinate their efforts, the result will be a high quality product"

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