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Sat 7 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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Expedia close to Middle East debut

Online travel portal Expedia will make its Middle East debut in the next 12 months, ATN can reveal.

Online travel portal Expedia will make its Middle East debut in the next 12 months, ATN can reveal.

The company said a dedicated Middle East website was definitely on the cards, but was non-committal about the timescale, however, sources close to ATN revealed an Expedia Middle East portal would be rolled out within the next year.

"We want to strengthen our presence in this market and would like to make a long-term investment," Expedia's vice president, lodging emerging markets, Murad Hajeebhoy told ATN.

Expedia's director of market management, Middle East & Indian Ocean, Walter Lo Faro, noted that internet penetration Middle East wide had increased from 10.8% last year to 17% this year, amounting to 34 million people, while internet penetration in the UAE was the highest at 38% and rising.

"This is where the Spanish market was three years ago," he said. "There is a big web community here and confidence in online is growing."

Hajeebhoy added that credit card penetration across the region was "moving quite quickly" - the other key factor determining where Expedia established local websites.

"People have a lot of disposable income here and have around four or five weeks' holiday during the year - we would like to get our share of that leisure business," he said.

If Expedia was to launch a Middle East site it would be dual-language - English and Arabic, he added.

Expedia currently boasts 1.36 billion users worldwide accounting for 20% of the global population.

The travel portal recently rolled out sites in a plethora of emerging markets including Iceland, India and Eastern European countries such as Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and the Czech Republic.

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