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Thu 15 May 2008 04:00 AM

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What's new in Asia Pacific?

That was the title of a seminar for the GCC's travel trade, which debated how best to sell Asia Pacific destinations as well as hot industry topics.

That was the title of a seminar for the GCC's travel trade, which debated how best to sell Asia Pacific destinations as well as hot industry topics.

How to sell Asia Pacific to leisure clients, women's travel buying trends, as well as airlines' direct-sell and commission-cutting tactics were just some of the hot topics of debate at the recent 'What's New in Asia Pacific' seminar attended by more than 150 members of the GCC's travel trade.

It was an excellent opportunity to spread the DTTAG message and was great to get direct responses from the travel trade.

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) event, which was hosted by InterContinental Dubai Festival City Hotel, sponsored by Qatar Airways and organised by Dubai-based boutique tourism communications agency Fusion Marketing in conjunction with Arabian Travel News was primarily designed to showcase new products and services from the PATA region's leading tourism boards - Australia, India, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand.

The all-day event, which was also supported by media partner The Times & Sunday Times, City 7 TV and Asfaar, saw Fusion Marketing director Nicki Page and ITP Business Publishing senior group editor and ATN editor, Gemma Greenwood employ an 'Oprah-style' set-up whereby each tourism board representative was brought to the stage for an informal chat enticing each to provide details on ‘how to sell' their destination.

In addition, Nielsen's head of customised research services, Akash Pal, made a presentation on 'Developing & Marketing Travel & Tourism to Arab Woman' and Qatar Airways' regional manager for the UAE, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iran and Afghanistan, Abdul Qadir Aziz discussed Qatar Airways' activities in the Asia Pacific region.

And last but not least, a roundtable discussion was staged by ATN's Greenwood involving Peter Hoslin, head of marketing, Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC); Rimzie Ismail, general manager, Dubai Airport and Leo Fewtrell, manager, Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group (DTTAG).

Topics discussed with members of the audience included future plans for both airports and travel agent issues such as commission cuts, airlines' direct-sell tactics and reasons why Dubai agents should join DTTAG.

Participants were positive about the seminar, which Fusion and ATN plan to make a regular event for the travel trade, as well as the meetings industry.

"It was an excellent opportunity to spread the DTTAG message and was great to get direct responses from the travel trade whether positive or negative," said Fewtrell. "Open lines of communication are vital in order to increase understanding."

Mike Booker, general manager, Al-Futtaim Travel (Dubai) added: "It was an excellent day and well worth the effort to attend. I found the sessions generally very informative and I also met some very useful industry contacts."He noted sessions would be useful for his front-line staff but the "only snag" was getting several employees to attend on a week day.

"I would certainly support future sessions and it would help if they were held during the evening or on a Saturday," Booker concluded. Marketing to the Arab woman

Nielsen's Akash Pal gave a thought-provoking presentation on how to market travel and tourism products to the Arab woman, based on research the company had conducted in Saudi Arabia.

We asked women in Saudi Arabia and the UAE what their preferred destination was and a large chunk said they preferred to travel within the region.

He started by giving the UAE perspective revealing that in 2006 UAE residents spent AED 21 billion ($5.72 billion) on travel and tourism and this figure is likely to grow to AED 36 billion ($9.8 billion) in 10 years' time.

"Now add this to the fact that women's contribution to the workforce is growing rapidly, their education levels are going up and family structures are becoming increasingly nuclearised, it makes this segment very attractive for us as marketers," he said.

Pal noted that in Tokyo, Goldman Sax compiled a list of more than 100 companies set to benefit from women's increased purchasing power and that in the past decade these companies had shown a 96% increase in the value of their shares against the market average of 13%.

"Even in this region, with the increased likelihood of women participating in the economy, this is bound to have a similar impact on companies targeting women," he said. "It is in this context that it becomes imperative to understand these savvy customers better."

Pal stressed that in KSA, more women were completing higher education but at home, they remained "a quintessential multi-tasker" with multiple responsibilities and were "performing a delicate balancing act between taking care of the children, bringing them up with the same values and customs as they themselves have been, and, between meeting the demands of their husband and in-laws".

"Amid this they crave personal space," he said, adding that Nielsen had observed three main manifestations of these social conditions.

Firstly, a "significant growth in domestic and international travel"; secondly, retail therapy, as an avenue for entertainment; and thirdly, an increase in the amount of personal grooming.

Pal also noted that the young Saudi Arabian housewife was playing an increasingly dominant role in decision-making processes, including where the family travelled to on holiday.

From Nielsen's research these women indicated that the main reasons for going on holiday were to take a break from household chores, share romantic moments with their husbands, spend quality time with their family and to find new places to visit and to shop in.

"In the same study, we asked women in Saudi Arabia and the UAE what their preferred destination was and a large chunk said they preferred to travel within the region and to some extent, to Muslim countries outside the region," Pal said.

"We also know there is a general decline in interest for [holidays to] the west."In terms of how women select a destination, Pal quoted a global survey conducted by GMI revealing that 'recommendation' or 'word of mouth' was the top source for information gathering, followed by the web.

"There are two implications to these findings," said Pal.

"Firstly, we must ensure our visibility online and secondly, ensure tourists have an experience that they can talk about at home." The debate

The panel discussion started off with both Peter Hoslin, head of marketing, Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) and Rimzie Ismail, general manager, Dubai Airport, discussing future plans for their respective facilities.

Hoslin noted that Abu Dhabi Airport witnessed a 31% increase in total passengers in 2007 driven principally by Etihad Airways' growth.

"Middle East aviation growth is totally sustainable. We are not looking to build the biggest airport in the world, just one that is suited to our market," he said.

"We will maintain our niche as a very fast and efficient airport. We are full to capacity at the moment, but we will fix that with the expansion, which will increase capacity and facilities for all passengers."

Hoslin noted that in 2007, capacity was 7 million passengers - this will rise to 12 million when the terminal dedicated to Etihad, opened later this year. Future airport expansion would see Abu Dhabi Airport handle 40 million passengers annually, he added.

Ismail replied: "We will offer it to all the airlines, but we won't be forcing anyone. We are moving all non-Emirates freightliners there though."

Moving on, Leo Fewtrell, manager of the Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group (DTTAG) outlined some of the goals the group, which represents the interests of Dubai's travel trade, had achieved to date.

This included wiping out the debt accrued by DTTAG's former administration; implementing lower membership fees; adopting a policy of transparency whereby all members can view DTTAG's accounts; providing subsidised training for agents; liaising with the DTCM regarding impending licensing fees; recommending service fees; and liaising with the airlines on a vast range of topics, from commission and direct-sell tactics to working out Agency Debit Memo (ADM) discrepancies.

However, one Dubai agent questioned why he should join DTTAG.

"It's not a question of the cost of membership," said Fabian Fernandes, manager of Alpha Travel.

"DTTAG says it is looking to change the market - I would like to see the Dubai market like the Abu Dhabi market where there is zero percent discounting. The people on the DTTAG committee are some of the biggest discounters in the market."Angry at these accusations, DTTAG president Iain Andrew, the senior vice president of Dnata Agencies, who was sitting in the audience, noted: "This is an association for travel agents by travel agents and the only way DTTAG will be a success is if we get the agents together and show unity. You are not showing unity."

He noted that Dubai was an open economy and that discounting practices could not be eradicated in such a free market.

After a heated exchange and a follow up meeting with Fewtrell and Andrew, Fernandes joined DTTAG, which now boasts a membership of 60 Dubai agents.

Andrew emphasised that if more members of the trade got behind DTTAG they would have bargaining power with the airlines in terms of negotiating incentives and commissions.

The panel and audience members noted that while 80% of airlines' sales came through the travel trade, they could not ignore the move towards 0% commission, incentive cuts and direct marketing tactics.

All agreed that agents needed to charge service fees and become travel consultants, rather than order takers.

Qatar Airways' regional manager for the UAE, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iran and Afghanistan, Abdul Qadir Aziz noted that now Doha agents were accustomed to a 0% environment, introduced by the airline in January, they were "happy" and "making more money out of service fees". How to sell India

India Tourism regional director KL Das noted that the Middle East was an upcoming market for India.

"In 2007, India saw a 17% increase in visitors (175,000) from the region, compared to 2006 (150,000)," he said.

"We want people to see India differently, because there is a lot to be discovered - it offers variation."

He advised agents to sell Kerala for its greenery and waterways; Goa for its beaches; Bombay/Mumbai for its shopping; in the north, the Golden Triangle - Agra (Taj Mahal), Delhi and Jaipur; while all of India offered visitors a cultural experience.

"We are trying to promote all parts of the country. India has previously been a summer destination but there is something to see there 365 days of the year," said Das.

He said the monsoon season (May to September) was the ideal time to send Middle East clients to India where they could experience the rain and lush green scenery that the Gulf lacked at this time of year and that special monsoon packages were available.

Das also encouraged agents to send clients to the undiscovered east and north of India.These regions, he said, offered the chance to see animals such as rhinos in their natural habitats, while the tea gardens of Assam were a great place to spend the night and learn more about the tea culture.

"In some cases we can offer financial assistance for new brochures offering trips to these locations and we can also run fam trips so agents can gain firsthand knowledge," Das said.

India was gaining in popularity due to the boom in airlinks from the Middle East, driven by Air Arabia, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, he continued. "Domestic airlines are also growing in a big way, especially low-cost airlines," he added.

One travel agent, Fabian Fernandes, general manager of Dubai's Alpha Travel, said he was selling India as a medical tourism destination and Das concurred.

"Previously patients would look towards America or the UK but now they look to India because we have the facilities. The Indian Tourism Ministry and the Health Ministry are working to certify the best hospitals and clinics so people can get the best treatment. The cost of course is so much lower than the western countries," he said.

"We have seen Arab people coming with their families and some hospitals have separate private apartments. We will take care of the patient and the families can go on holiday." How to sell Australia

Tourism Australia GCC distribution director Andrew Oldfield noted how GCC travellers were flocking to Australia, with the latest arrivals figures for January revealing 3858 Gulf visitors entered the country, a 21% increase on January 2007.

The Gulf market, he said was one of the top 25 inbound markets for Australia and of the total arrivals of visitors from the Gulf region in 2007, a high proportion were visiting Australia for holiday (43% - 22,542); visiting friends and relatives (21% - 11,115); business (13% - 6749); for education and employment (13% - 6967) and others (10% - 4888).

Gulf visitors spent AUD $322 million (US $301 million) on trips to Australia in 2007, 51% of which came from first-time visitors, while average duration of stay was 41 nights, stressing that agents who sell trips to the destination can rake-in the commission.

Oldfield said the only factor hindering growth in the number of Gulf visitors to Australia was airline capacity.

"For direct flights with Etihad or Emirates, you have to book well in advance," he said.

"But let's not forget Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and other Asia carriers - there are all kinds of ways of getting into Australia. This also gives the opportunity to stop for a day somewhere on the way to get used to the time zone and then travel on to Australia."

He added that Qatar Airways had gained the rights to fly to Australia, but had not inaugurated a route there yet. The airline said it hoped to fly to Australia in 2009.

Oldfield also highlighted that Emirates Airline would employ its new A380 aircraft on some Australia routes, which would free-up capacity.Some travel trade members in the audience enquired about visa issues and Oldfield noted that GCC nationals are now entitled to a two-year multi-entry visa.

"Some agents are applying for their client's visa for them, which is a fantastic value add and a fantastic service [you can charge for] - it helps seal the deal," he said.

"If you have clients coming in and asking about Australia, even if they're just thinking about it, get them to apply for the visa right then and there," he added.

Oldfield said he was keen to promote some of Australia's lesser-known areas such as Perth on the west coast, which is just a 10-hour flight from the GCC compared to 15 hours for locations on the east coast.

"Perth really has a nice family feel, with great beaches and a laid-back atmosphere. It also has Rottnest Island, where no cars are allowed, so you can go round on bikes," said Oldfield.

He encouraged agents to take part in Tourism Australia's online specialist training programme so they could offer plenty of options to clients heading for Australia.

"Middle East travellers have always assumed that Australia is just shops and big cities, but they are beginning to get out a bit more to explore new places, beaches, places where they can be a family unit," he concluded. How to sell Thailand

Tourism Authority of Thailand marketing and PR manager Middle East Shaikh Rahmatullah said Middle East arrivals to Thailand for 2007 were 283,000, up 76% on 2007 (160,000), with the strongest source markets including the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, KSA and Iran.

He said Middle East travellers were attracted to Thailand's "variety of tourism products and services" including "excellent shopping offers" and "the traditional hospitality of Thai people".

"In addition Thailand's facilities for medical tourism, health, spas and wellbeing are also attracting many tourists," he added.

Thailand's key selling points, according to Rahmatullah, are numerous: value for money; excellent tourism infrastructure; hospitality; high standards of medical facilities; attractions and theme parks for children and families; visa on arrival for most GCC nationals and many other nationalities; pleasant weather with no extremes; Thai cuisine; scenic places, incredible beaches and fabulous islands; and affordable world-class shopping.

Rahmatullah said TAT, via its new Amazing Thailand website found at, regularly identified new attractions that appealed to all types of travellers.

The new site, he said, offered information on more than 2000 of Thailand's tourism products including hotels, tours, attractions and restaurants and a travel agent directory.

"We wish to suggest to our valued travel agents and tour operators that Thailand is beyond the main city of Bangkok, stressed Rahmatullah."More than 60% of travellers from the Middle East are repeat who explore and look for more attractions, combining it with their holiday to Bangkok.

"Many are aware of these destinations and many seek assistance from the travel trade. The travellers need to be well informed about great landscapes, hilly regions, lush green countryside and the beautiful country that is beyond Bangkok."

His tips included Phuket and Phang Nga Bay for water sports, beaches and island hopping and Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand, which is lush and green, especially in the summer. How to sell Singapore

"For the past few years we've been gearing up to get the tourism industry to Singapore rejuvenated and Singapore has become a hip tourist destination now," said Jason Ong, area director, Middle East and Africa, Singapore Tourism Board (STB)."

"We have had the F1 Grand Prix now for five years and on September 28 this year Singapore will host the world's first night race."

Right now the tickets are moving very fast, so your clients should buy them as soon as possible.

The SingTel Formula Onetm Singapore Grand Prix will take place in the Marina Bay area during the Singapore GP Season, which runs from September 20 to October 5 and will also feature themed activities, entertainment and lifestyle festivals.

Among them is the Singapore River Festival (September 10-28) with highlights including a concert on the river featuring international artists, outdoor parties and a float parade on the river.

Ong noted that the Grand Prix and river festival provided ideal opportunities to send clients to Singapore on a Ramadan or Eid break.

"We are trying to encourage year-round travel from the region and trying to entrench Singapore in people's minds," he added.

Additional new attractions in Singapore include the Singapore Flyer, the world's largest observation wheel spanning a diameter of 150-metres and offering "breathtaking vistas of the city and neighbouring countries".

And in the not too distant future, by 2009 and 2010 respectively - the Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World at Sentosa - will host a mix of convention and exhibition facilities, themed attractions, entertainment and performance venues, casino gaming, recreation facilities, hotels and new retail concepts, stressed Ong.

"They will become Singapore's newest iconic business and leisure destinations that will continue Singapore's tourism landscape transformation," he said.

Ong also reminded travel agents that 2008 had already seen the opening of Changi Airport Terminal 3 while a new International Cruise Terminal at Marina South would be developed by 2010 to ensure Singapore had the right facilities to attract the new generation of larger cruise ships.

"International cruise companies are strengthening their presence in the region and have been identified as a new growth opportunity for Singapore's tourism sector, with an expected 1.5 million cruise passenger throughput for Asia expected by 2010," Ong concluded. Royal Caribbean recently started operating cruises from Singapore. How to sell New Zealand

New Zealand is definitely a new destination for Gulf travellers, said Nicola Cunich, manager UAE, Tourism New Zealand, who emphasised that you could travel there with Emirates Airline via Australia - to both Auckland on the north island and Christchurch on the south island.

"It's an outdoors place where you are hands on with the environment. It's about getting involved in it, about getting outdoors and embracing the landscape and the environment," she said.

When you come to New Zealand it's about taking your time, not rushing it.

Cunich said New Zealand, which is renowned for its natural beauty and the number of cultural, sports and family activities on offer would suit all types of travellers.

"It's perfect for families who want to drive around and explore what's on offer. In this case you need to spend at least a week on each island."

"If you based yourself in Auckland or Christchurch then you can go exploring from there," she explained.

In addition to the big brand name hotels that can be booked for those clients preferring to play it safe and choose a brand name - the Hilton in Auckland, located right on the harbour, is one - there are many exclusive lodges in New Zealand that offered a unique honeymoon experience, Cunich revealed.

"They are luxurious, private, top-end and boutique - it's not for everyone, but there is a market."

Cunich also stressed that the Gulf's summer was New Zealand's winter and so skiing and winter sports were available, particularly in 'adventure central', Queenstown, located on the south island, where activities range from snowboarding to bungee jumping - ideal for a lads holiday!

"But we can also offer spa and golf retreats," she added.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand offers GCC nationals a visa on arrival.

She suggested that for more information, travel agents check out or How to sell Malaysia

Tourism Malaysia marketing manager Mohammed Ibrahim Masri said Malaysia was "a Muslim destination" where people from the GCC felt "very much at home".

"We have the Halal food, the mosques and the apartments for families - we've been focusing on [attracting tourists from] this region for quite some time now," he said.In 2007 we had 20.8 million visitors [in total] and we expect 22.5 million in 2008. The Middle East market is a very important one for us because on average they stay between 10 and 15 days.

Middle East arrivals had achieved double-digit growth (32%) from 2004 to 2007, Masri added.

Like Rahmatullah of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Masri stressed that there was much more to Malaysia than just its capital, Kuala Lumpur, which had proved popular with GCC travellers due to its shopping festivals, duty free prices, cheap goods from China and its city life.

"But you can go trekking in the rainforest, spot turtles on the beaches, and there are night markets, fishing in mountain streams and boat trips on offer," he explained.

Malaysia also features some idyllic island havens, including Langkawi, Penang and Pulau Perhentian.

The latter, meaning 'stopover island', is not to be missed, said Masri.

Situated 21km off the coast of Terengganu, it comprises the islands of Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil.

Covered by unspoilt jungle, windswept palms, powdery white beaches and surrounded by sapphire blue waters, Pulau Perhentian is a sanctuary for fishermen, migratory birds and of course, discerning holidaymakers.

Located just off the edge of the Pulau Redang Marine Park, Perhentian's coral-fringed waters have excellent underwater seascapes for snorkelling and scuba diving.

Arrangements can also be made for island cruises, and boats can be hired to go exploring for private bays and secluded coves.

A trip to these tropical islands is also a must for those clients who enjoy windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and deep-sea fishing. How to sell Korea

Shafiq Ibrahim, marketing manager, Korea Tourism, said Middle East tourists accounted for 65,000 arrivals to Korea in 2007 and that the GCC's outbound market was a potential "goldmine" for Korea.

The UAE, Kuwait and KSA were "crucial" markets, achieving 40% growth in 2007, with Egypt and Turkey emerging markets. However, the traffic was currently limited to upper middle class families only, he added.

"Korea is still a new destination for Middle East travellers - people tend to know it only for business, automobiles, electronics and sports - and therefore leisure travel is limited to a certain segment of travellers," said Ibrahim.

"But based on feedback from travellers who have been to Korea, their reasons have been several - the chance to visit a new country, the shopping experience, the varied four seasons and mild summer, as well as Korea's entertainment facilities."Ibrahim noted that Korea was ideal for families as it boasted 15 theme parks including the Everland Theme Park, which is 2007 was ranked the fourth most popular park in the world, boasting 7.5 million visitors.

Additional theme parks are planned including one from Universal Studios (2012) and another from Paramount Pictures (2010).

Ibrahim said the travel trade should think about linking Seoul with other popular tourist destinations in Asia since most of the leading Asian carriers flew into Seoul thus giving an opportunity to enjoy two countries during one holiday.

"Factors like visa-on-arrival status, the availability of airline seats during peak season and the choice of tourism products from modern cities to exotic countryside, and above all, safety and security, can definitely help promote Korea as an upcoming holiday destination," Ibrahim added.

He suggested sending first-time clients to South Korea's capital Seoul where shopping and theme parks were the key attractions followed by a trip to Jeju Island for rest and relaxation - a destination also known as a honeymooners' paradise.

"The Island has a lot of luxury hotels, condominiums, beaches, golf courses, balloon rides, submarine tours, the only Teddy Bear Museum in Asia, a brilliant eco system and above all a pollution free Island with no industrial activities," Ibrahim added.

Culture vultures would enjoy visits to Royal Palaces and could be offered accommodation in a temple, with durations ranging from one night to one week, he said, while adventure travellers could try mountain trekking, bungee jumping and farm stays. QatarAirways in Asia Pacific

Qatar Airways' regional manager for the UAE, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iran and Afghanistan, Abdul Qadir Aziz, used the 'What's New in Asia Pacific' event as an opportunity to outline Qatar Airways' many activities in the Asia Pacific region.

He noted that Asia's significance in the global economy was set to shift from the world's largest product to the world's largest consumer.

This potential, he said, needed to be tapped by the Middle East market and Qatar Airways had already identified the Asia Pacific region as a key contributor to the airline's growth, with 35% of its network (the carrier flies to 81 destinations) already dedicated to this region.

"Qatar Airways has recognised the increasing appetite for travel into and out of Asia Pacific and our growth into this region forms the cornerstone of our global expansion strategy," Aziz said.

Last year Qatar Airways introduced 11 new routes and this year will focus more on upping frequencies on existing ones, although already a new service to Guangzhou has been introduced, its fourth in China in addition to its services to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing.

"Future expansion will focus on China and the USA," Aziz added.

Launched on March 31, the Guangzhou service operates four times weekly rising to five flights weekly on May 1 taking Qatar Airways' total flight count to China to 20 weekly.

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