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Mon 8 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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The year that was… 2008

Soaring hotel rates, bumper occupancies and buoyant inbound and outbound traffic — by any standards, 2008 started out as a boom year. Kathi Everden picks out the highs and lows.

Soaring hotel rates, bumper occupancies and buoyant inbound and outbound traffic — by any standards, 2008 started out as a boom year. Kathi Everden picks out the highs and lows.

For many, 2008 was year zero - a time when regional carriers announced their intentions to follow the global trend to cut agency commissions, forcing the trade to look at ways and means of evolving into travel management companies rather than ticket issuers.

And perhaps consequently, 2008 was a year when more brochures came to the table as agencies and airlines bundled air, accommodation and tour options into one package.

It was also a period when economy travel came of age in the Gulf, with low-cost carriers and budget hotels mushrooming.

It was also a period when economy travel came of age in the Gulf, with low-cost carriers and budget hotels mushrooming, while at the same time, demand for more exotic and off-the-beaten-track locations were on the rise.

Carriers such as Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline continued their progression around the world inaugurating routes to - for them - virgin territories such as Brazil, China and Australia, while global carriers continued to enhance their presence in the region.

Inbound, the ‘full' sign was up at many times in most destinations as business and leisure traffic continued to grow, while Dubai stressed its global credentials topping hotel rate and RevPAR league tables according to STR Global and coming second only to New York in terms of occupancy with the average hitting 81.6% up to end of August 2008.

But, while the news all looked good, the looming recession in many source markets this winter - as well as a slowing down of regional economies - has raised questions as to the pace of development and whether demand will falter in 2009. January 2008

Qatar Airways prepares for zero commission; Travelport announces plans to set up a hotel platform and one for car hire following its merger with Worldspan; LCC Sama goes international; Royal Caribbean eyes Dubai as a cruise hub; Aer Lingus cancels Dubai flights; WTM report highlights Halal tourism opportunities for the Middle East.

February 2008

Saudia looks to implement zero commission by 2009; Etihad launches its first holiday shop; Dnata opens in Abu Dhabi and Doha; Rohit Talwar of Fast Future warned that the fate of the global economy, environmental challenges and human resources could impact Gulf growth, but that $580bn was being invested in 900 hotels and 750,000 rooms; British Airways launches all-business airline division; Dnata Holidays launches twin brochures.

March 2008

Trade calls for education and incentives to alleviate late booking trend; DTCM launches hotel booking facility with fees dumped on agents; Dnata Holidays launches dedicated ski brochure; Iran boosts travel trade training with new website; US agents call for more promotion of Dubai as a destination apart from its hotels; Rocco Forte Collection to debut in Abu Dhabi; Nakheel's Joe Sita denies downturn in luxury travel citing the banking industry bonuses as one driver of the sector.

April 2008

Gulf Air axes agent productivity incentive payments and also cuts holiday brochures in favour of web sales; Etihad launches tactical deals to boost off season sales; Sharaf Travel announces online honeymoon collection and online bridal registry; DTTAG announces fees menu for member agents to provide education for customers; new agent website from Starwood to educate trade on destinations as well as hotels, while Starwood Pro offers special rates and educational opportunities; call for agents to look at branding and shop frontage to upgrade their products; Egypt and Morocco on the up for meetings and incentives says BCD; Dubai launches LCC FlyDubai while Emirates to put Los Angeles on its route map from September; Travel agents' feathers are ruffled by attempts by airlines to target the consumer directly and cut out the middle man; ATN editor tries out Silverjet and loves it. May 2008

Al Rostamani Travel launches its first leisure brochure featuring 220 pages; Dnata Holidays plans for mobile travel consultants and five UAE lounges, plus niche market brochures; ATN survey reveals trade still most popular booking option, but online booking growing; Jumeirah to introduce DVD interactive product training, and website option later; Qatar Airways to cut commissions in region from June; Cox&Kings launches 15 brochures; Emirates to have 450 aircraft claims chairman, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum at WTTC Summit; Oman Air cuts out brochures; Abu Dhabi announces five-year plan to increase visitors to 2.7 million by 2012 and promises product development; Princess eyes Middle East market and plugs 10% commission offered; SAA to launch Gulf holiday brochure; Kanoo expands with more offices in Saudi, as well as Europe, plus 24/7 corporate travel centres; participants at luxury round table session agree brochures are here to stay due to consumer demand; Kuwait hotels press for government action on the environment while ATN calls for the travel trade to get real on this issue.

June 2008

Kanoo Travel re-engineers its business to boost leisure, launches dedicated Cyprus brochure and does deal with Tourism Australia - considers similar with other tourist boards; Al Tayyar takes 30% in Alshamel, which gives the latter inroads in to Saudi market; a hint that hotels could cut commissions says Marriott boss at ATM conference; Net Tours opens in Ras Al Khaimah to support leisure and MICE; Silverjet goes under; Kayala goes international with Cairo and Dubai services; Austrian ups Dubai service and launches holiday brochure; United to fly from Washington to Dubai in October; Virgin Atlantic has claimed its facilities at Heathrow's Terminal 3 are more than a match for rival British Airways' new Terminal 5 at the London airport; a call for agents to add value with niche markets including cruise and Muslim groups, as well as boosting training, product knowledge and customer service skills.

July 2008

Emirates ends speculation with zero commission announcement for October 1 - 7% service fee to be introduced at outlets and trade urged to follow suit; Amadeus signs exclusive deal with Arab Air Carriers Organisation; new hotel classification systems proposed for Dubai and for Abu Dhabi; Etihad Holidays boosts distribution with plan for 12 shops through GCC and real time access for web sales; fines proposed for non compliance with emiratisation plans for travel trade; Turkey appoints Gala to market destination in the Gulf; Wataniya confirms launch for early 2009 with A320 premium jets; DTCM launches green initiative for hotels with Farnek; ATN launches Mystery Shopper scheme with Grass Roots.

August 2008

DTTAG asks Emirates to support training for trade to implement zero commission; fuel surcharges prompt search for online bargains, trade claims; Etihad and FlyDubai order big at Farnborough; Air Arabia Holidays launches website for trade to dynamically package holidays; new executive airport planned for Abu Dhabi; bmi ups Saudi flights; business travel set to increase says YouGovSiraj poll; Emirates Hotels & Resorts calls for desert safari operators to consider environmental impact of operations; Germany, Scandinavia and France up regional promotions; agents given direct access to Emirates' reservations system with Farelogix, bypassing the GDS. September 2008

Same old, same old summer with Malaysia, Australia, UK, France and Egypt taking the top five places again; Dnata sets up luxury hotel portfolio; Cox&Kings introduces one-stop online booking system with no charge for quotations; Jumeirah signs with Expedia Online; Etihad expands to Russia, Australia and the ‘Stan states; Emirates takes delivery of first A380 and flies to the US; Travelport takes over distribution of Galileo products in the region; Beijing Olympics deemed a ‘no sale' from the Gulf; Al Futtaim appointed first Aussie Specialist agent; Mystery Shopper reveals deep flaws in agency offerings.

October 2008

United launches services to Dubai from Washington while Delta ups to daily frequency from Atlanta; BA unveils new Club World product on Dubai flights; MAS confirms move to zero commission; Gulf carriers cautiously upbeat despite IATA figures and profit warnings; DTTAG in talks with International Passenger Protection for scheme to replace hefty IATA bank guarantees; Royal Caribbean signs up to hub ship in Dubai for spring season 2010 with weekly itineraries around the Gulf between January and April; Sabre deal with EmQuest covers Africa and UAE after termination of Galileo deal; trade ‘upset' with criticisms of Mystery Shopper, although some such as Alpha support initiative; the hotly-anticipated mega-property, Atlantis, The Palm, finally opens its doors.

November 2008

Emirates Holidays reports increased tour bookings in Scotland, Brazil and South Africa, while its business to the US increases 50% - boss Hans Haensel says lack of trade knowledge is keeping the same destinations in the top 10; Jumeirah expands internationally with new resort in US Virgin Islands; Sama cuts domestic routes and protests against Saudia's fuel subsidies; Starwood announces worldwide upgrade for Sheraton products, including the Middle East; Etihad confirms January 1 start for zero commission while Virgin Atlantic opts for March 1 - Gulf Air to maintain commission in Saudi and UAE markets; Lufthansa commits to GCC market with daily service to Doha, Abu Dhabi and double daily to Dubai; Delta starts four-times weekly service between Atlanta and Kuwait; wholesaler Emirates Desert Tourism ups commission from 7% to 9% and launches 572-page manual.

December 2008

Travel trade calls for agent training school and UK's Institute of Travel and Tourism says it could oblige; New Oman Air boss reveals plans to transform carrier into "world-class airline"; the region's airlines show no signs of being impacted by the current credit crisis as new routes launched and frequencies increased; Hong Kong Tourism Board gets set to launch Middle East offensive in 2009; Global trends report launched at WTM identifies the Middle East's outbound ex-pat market as a cash cow; KL-based LCC, Air Asia X, eyes the Middle East as it looks to expand its long haul operations; ATM says education the focus of 2009 show.

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