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Tue 1 May 2007 12:00 AM

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Outbound leisure market is bursting with opportunities

As we prepare for the 2007 instalment of Arabian Travel Market, it's refreshing to witness the influx of new tour operators entering the region, particularly in Dubai where the outbound leisure sector is undergoing a definite boom cycle.

As we prepare for the 2007 instalment of Arabian Travel Market, it's refreshing to witness the influx of new tour operators entering the region, particularly in Dubai where the outbound leisure sector is undergoing a definite boom cycle.

Newcomers to the Dubai market this month range from the world's oldest travel company, Cox&Kings, to start-ups such as Lufthansa's Holiday Europe, while companies such as Dnata Holidays have totally revamped and re-launched their product.

Stalwarts such as Emirates Holidays are continuing to expand their product and this year are keen to promote new destinations such as Sao Paulo, Bangalore and Nagoya.

The company's theme for 2007-2008 is family holidays, with each brochure in its portfolio showcasing a photo of a cute kid on its front page, while inside, children's activities have been ramped up and highlighted.

The UAE's national carrier, Etihad Airways is now a force to be reckoned with on the holiday front, with new destinations rolled out in line with its aggressive route expansion strategy. Destinations of note for 2007 include Australia, Milan, Dublin and Kerala.

Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan told ATN the holiday division was an essential component of the business and that his team planned to enhance the web proposition for this division by the end of 2007.

Travel agents too are jumping on the leisure bandwagon and compiling increasingly meaty itineraries. Look out for Sharaftravel and Kanoo Holidays at ATM, while Al Rostamani Travel is also looking to get a piece of the action later this year.

With many new players entering the outbound leisure game, the market is maturing and niche specialists are finally beginning to emerge.

Holiday Europe is a venture launched in the UAE this month by German flag carrier Lufthansa. The operation will work with local operators and package its flights with holiday product in cities across Europe.

This taps into the trend that many operators and airlines have noticed for more frequent travel and for short city breaks.

Holiday booking patterns are no longer restricted to one long vacation from late June to early September, but instead, travel savvy consumers are taking five or more breaks throughout the year.

Australia-based Tempo Holidays, which is represented in the Gulf by Dubai-based Gulf Reps and Lebanon-based Wild Discovery, which operates an outbound programme for the UAE market have both identified demand for specialty holidays. Painting holidays in France and cooking lessons in Italy are just two examples, while both operators offer extensive itineraries to South America, a destination that is new to this market. Only when Emirates Airlines starts flying to Sao Paulo later this year will we start to see mainstream interest in this location.

Every operator appears to be targeting the lucrative weddings and honeymoons market, particularly now more flights to a country synonymous with romance - Italy -are coming online (Etihad to Milan and Emirates to Venice).

And finally the need to cater to the region's High Net Worth individuals has finally been realised -with Dnata Holidays' glossy 256-page magazine-style brochure a testament to that.

And there's more where that came from as the tour operator gears up to produce several brochures catering to niche markets, from wellness holidays to golf breaks. If you think that you have missed the boat, you're wrong.

The outbound leisure market is exploding and the customer demands choice, so there's still time to get your slice of the pie.

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