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Sun 1 Oct 2006 12:00 AM

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Business as usual this Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan can be a quiet time for the travel industry, but that is not to say it cannot be profitable if agents think outside the square

Just as inbound travel to the Gulf States starts to pick up after the long hot summer, so Ramadan kicks in and presents agents with new difficulties.

To make matters worse, outbound travel plummets as the kids return back to school.

But by thinking outside of the box, there are still opportunities to make a healthy profit during the holy month, which this year falls from September 23 to October 22.

According to travel industry professionals, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of people travelling during Ramadan, particularly European bargain hunters taking advantage of special packages, and corporate and MICE groups, which carry on with business as usual.

“The volume of people travelling [during Ramadan] is increasing each year,” said Rami Mashini, deputy general manager of travel product wholesale company, Gulliver’s Travel Associates by Travelport (GTA).

“After the summer holidays the corporate groups are back to work, so they are still travelling, but [Ramadan] will affect the beach properties a bit; it will be slow but not bad.”

While business from the GCC market is likely to stagnate during this period, European ex-pats often take advantage of cheap holiday deals, he said.

Agents are therefore advised to create and promote packages to boost their profits.

Help is at hand from hotels and tour companies, which are becoming increasingly willing to work with agents and operators to achieve this common goal.

Yves Tarabout, director of sales & marketing for Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers, noted that agents were missing out on easy sales during Ramadan.

“Less than 25% of bookings are made by agents via the GDS or online; the rest is direct business,” she said.

She emphasised that agents should take the opportunity to promote low room rates, particularly as they were given “free sell” during the holy month, allowing them to book as many rooms as they like with no restrictions.

“The important thing is to work together in order to attract as many customers as possible.

As opposed to looking at profitability, we try to increase sales and in turn, revenues.”

For hotels, Ramadan is a period when F&B promotions are key to luring local business.

Most hotels offer traditional Arabic fare from sunset to midnight, including Iftar buffets, live Oud music, Arabic sweets and Shisha, some of which are hosted in Layali tents with traditional majilis seating.

The combination of these traditional Arabic festivities and cheaper room rates are a draw card for the MICE market, and agents can take advantage of the quiet period to work on generating business from this segment.

The time is also ripe to promote and book Eid breaks, which are particularly popular with GCC families.

Short breaks to destinations in the Middle East, Asia and Europe are top-sellers.

Independent operators such as Saudi Arabia-based Kanoo Holidays offer flexible DIY three-night packages, which allow customers to pick and choose the carrier and the cabin class.

“Eid Packages floated by Kanoo Holidays are very popular across the entire region,” according to Ibrahim Nalkhande, the company’s product manager.

“The main destinations we are featuring this year are Dubai, Cairo, Muscat, Amman, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and London.”

Destinations are based on customer trends observed over the last three years, he added.

Shrewd travel agents should convince would-be leisure customers that Ramadan offers them a chance to discover more about the belief and traditions behind the holy month; suggesting special tours and Ramadan feasts.

UAE-based DMC, Arabian Adventures, is conducting three tours weekly to the Sahry Gate house in the traditional Bastakiya area of Dubai, home to winding alleyways and original wind tower buildings that are characteristic of the country.

Spa breaks and yacht chartering are also potential money-spinners; many companies have included spa packages in their Ramadan offerings, encouraging the spiritual purifying processes that are observed during the holy month.

}The volume of people travelling during Ramadan is increasing.~

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