By Gemma Hornett
Outbound travel from the Middle East this summer looks set to draw parallels with a typical World Cup football match; it will be a game of two halves.
During June and the first half of July, holiday bookings to far-flung destinations were more subdued than usual due to two key factors.
Firstly, the World Cup kept football fans busy and many were reluctant to jet off overseas until the tournament ended, or at least until the team they were gunning for got knocked out the event.
This was particularly the case in Saudi Arabia, where football fever was endemic, according to agents and tour operators based in this market who reported slow sales until July 9.
The mad rush came in the second half of July and looked set to continue into August.
Agents also noted that traditionally, prospective holidaymakers wait to book their summer break until August when the intense heat in the Gulf becomes unbearable.
Secondly, the recent stock market crash in KSA, one of the Middle Eastâ€™s largest and highest spending outbound markets, also resulted in disappointing sales in June and July.
Travel agents and operators catering to the middle class market suffered the most, while those dealing with high net worth clients reported strong sales despite economic uncertainty.
Outside KSA, the other Gulf nations were busy booking trips to two destinations in particular; Thailand and Australia.
Both feature in the top five best selling destinations this summer according to Emirates Holidays and Etihad Holidays, and agents concur.
The challenge now is to encourage repeat visitors to try out alternatives to Bangkok (Thailand) and the Gold Coast (Australia) so that business to both destinations will continue to enjoy solid growth in the future.
Malaysia is also proving a reliable sale this summer, however Indonesia, which has been plagued with natural disasters and terrorist attacks, is yet to get back on track.
While residents Middle East-wide have been planning their mass exodus this summer, a desertion of other sorts has been masterminded by some of the industryâ€™s key players.
Dissatisfaction with the layout of Mayâ€™s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) is rife and both tourist boards and hotels are considering pulling out of the event unless the situation is rectified.
Both VisitBritain and Maison de la France, which promote the UK and France respectively, have threatened to ditch ATM 2007 unless the organiser, Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE), reorganises the floor plan so that foot flow is evenly distributed, rather than being held up in the Middle East hall where real estate projects dominate.
The Leading Hotels of the World Ltd has committed for 2007, but unless the groupâ€™s participating hotels witness a significant improvement in the business generated by the event, it too has signaled a swift exit and will not exhibit in 2008.
This begs to suggest that ATM could follow in the footsteps of WTM in that once travel trade exhibitions reach a certain size, they no longer suit the purpose of many exhibitors involved.
Increasingly suppliers are looking to showcase their product at smaller exhibitions that focus on the niche markets in which they operate.
International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) and MICE exposition, EIBTM are good examples.
The ball is now in RTEâ€™s court to either re-think the layout of ATM, review its exhibitor list, or maybe consider running two shows, one of which could focus on the new super real estate projects leaving the other to get back to ATM basics; facilitating a travel-focused forum where buyers meet suppliers and do business.