As 2008 comes to a close, ATN talks to the region's leading travel professionals to explore what trends, topics and destinations will shape the market in 2009.
As 2008 comes to a close, ATN talks to the region's leading travel professionals to explore what trends, topics and destinations will shape the market in 2009.Before we know it we'll be welcoming in a brand new year after a 2008 that was so busy, it passed us by in almost a blink of an eyelid.
It's been a year of many highs and lows - record oil prices, the abolition of travel agent commission, the global credit crisis and the debut of the super jumbo, the A380, are just some of the events to impact the industry.
But now December is upon us it's time to forget the past and look to the future and to what 2009 has in store.
The focus is definitely going to be on the Far East.
Things move quickly in the travel industry, particularly in this region, and no one wants to be the last one to miss a hot trend, so ATN has gathered the thoughts from Middle East travel professionals of note to find out what they think will be ‘hot' for 2009.. Definite destinations
"Hong Kong and China are going to be two destinations that we'll be pushing really hard for leisure in 2009," says Alpha Holidays product manager John Flower.
"China after the Olympics has that added exposure and Hong Kong has representation in the region (GAA-Marta Consulting) now so we expect that they'll be featuring pretty prominently," he adds.
Kanoo divisional general manager Julian Knott agrees with the general direction of Flower's picks, but has more to add.
"The focus is definitely going to be on the Far East," he states. "Singapore and Malaysia are going to see a lot of custom from this region - there's no doubt about that - but I think a lot of European regions will be coming back strongly too, the Disney factor in Paris and places like that."
Dubai Travel and Tour agents Group (DTTAG) general manager Leo Fewtrell agrees that all indications from the trade point toward the Far East "becoming a big player in 2009", but stresses that "anywhere that's cheap" will get a good look in because of the credit crunch impact.
Emirates Holidays senior vice president John Felix says he believes the US will "start growing again" as it receives more "positive exposure" in 2009 and also volunteers Brazil as a destination he expects to really come into its own next year.
"Once the US can overcome the initial perception that it's too far away it can definitely become a big hit next year," he says.
"It's such a great destination that it can't fail to be a success." Luxury lowdown
Having already asked the industry "what is luxury" in the November issue, ATN this month polled the experts to find out where the lifestyles of the rich and famous will be played out in 2009.
"Zanzibar in Tanzania is so beautiful; it makes a great luxury getaway," enthuses Luxury Hotels by Dnata business development manager Lisa Balsom.
"We'll be promoting the beach houses there, because the ‘getaway from it all' factor really adds quality. We'll also be promoting strongly on Bodrum in Turkey and on Phuket in Thailand.
"I think the Thai tourism board is doing an excellent job here and we have some really excellent packages there for 2009."
Prime Travel Dubai general manager Richard Evans agrees that Thailand will be "a hot one" in 2009.
"Some of the places we are promoting there are more like dreams not holidays. We have packages for villa holidays in Koh Samui that are just out of this world; it's luxury re-defined and really fits the trend that's been creeping in through 2008 that will be big in 2009 - exclusivity and isolation; stunning places that aren't cheap, but are worth every penny."
The Travel Collection managing director Jacqueline Campbell says it will be "no surprise" if Thailand is hot again in 2009, but points to other destinations in Asia as ones to watch also.
"We think Bali will make a big comeback and will be slightly more price led because of the credit crunch," she says.
"We represent a property there called The Legian, which boasts a private beach house with a private beach within the grounds; it's a stunning option that will definitely catch the eye of the luxury crowd."
Corporate ladder climbing
Trends in the corporate market seem easier to spot, but in some ways more difficult to exploit as agencies and hotel groups must be wary of scrambling after the same business.
Kanoo Travel's Knott stresses that companies will be more likely to be "looking at working more closely in partnership with travel management companies", to ensure they have access to intelligent price management systems.
"I'm not saying this will be a panic dash towards low cost on the corporate side," he says, "but more an advance in sophistication on the company's part - really looking at what they can get for their money."
He believes business and MICE travellers will look to Asia for business meetings, conferences and incentives.Global research firm Euromonitor International agrees that Asia will be a hotspot for corporate travel in 2009 given that many US companies, particularly banks and financial institutions hurt by the ongoing US sub-prime crisis, will look to Asia for growth.
Asia accounted for an estimated 80% of global growth in key financial institutions in the first quarter of 2008 and offers an alternative source of revenue as liquidity and investor confidence dries up.
As a result, key financial executives are undertaking more trips to major Asian destinations, particularly business hubs such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai and Mumbai. The Jumeirah Group is ready for this business, says Jumierah senior vice president Asia Pacific Tony Cousens.
Environmental concerns will come to the fore in 2009.East.
"In terms of market potential, Asia is going to be huge, so it's vital that Jumierah positions itself there as part of its continuing expansion - that's what we'll be doing with the Jumeirah HanTang Xintiandi in Shanghai," he says.
"By 2012 we want to have reached 60 properties - 30% of those will be in the Asia Pacific region."
Gearing up for green
Factoring environmental issues into travel packages has been a slow burner in the GCC states, but 2009 could be the year that sees awareness heightened according to Emirates' Felix.
"Environmental concerns will come to the fore in 2009," he says.
"It might be a bit slow at first, but once it builds momentum it will definitely have an impact on the industry."
And Emirates Holidays will a key part in educating agents and consumers about green concerns as it plans to introduce a ‘green' icon to its brochures to denote when a property adheres to its strict environmental guidelines.
The tour operator is currently putting together ‘green' criteria against which it can judge the properties it showcases in its many brochures. Those that comply will be flagged up in the operator's 2009 programmes.
Kanoo's Knott expects an "awakening awareness" in the region concerning greener travel options.
"We are preparing for people to take more of an interest in ecologically-aware packages" he says.
"To be honest it's been on the cards for a while now so in 2009 it should feature more prominently in travellers' mindsets."
Knott adds: "The emissions rating will be coming in for airlines so that will definitely have an effect.
"It will also bring the topic into focus more so you can expect it become an issue of more prominence than it has been previously."
Gulf Air chief strategy officer Tero Taskila, who is responsible for the airline's green policy, goes a step further, claiming green issues will "be a big thing" in 2009.
The debate about the impact of online distribution on the region's travel trade has been fierce in 2008, but the general consensus among the major players is that in 2009, this distribution channel will be a cause for concern, but it will not wipe out agency sales.
"Technology will just enhance the market," says Kanoo's Knott. "Online bookings shouldn't matter as long as you provide the service, so there are positives to be taken, not negatives. I don't see it being any more or less of a factor than it was previously, just something that needs intelligently adapting to."
Most travel suppliers with whom ATN spoke claim they are sticking to their current distribution strategies, including Cathay Pacific country manager for UAE & Oman Clement Tam.
"We will distribute through agents as always and keep our website up to date; there's nothing really new going on there," he says.
However, Jumierah Group director distribution development Oliver Fasching reveals the hospitality group hopes to "see a growth in online distribution in the industry in 2009".
"Jumierah will launch a new website with new features, a state-of-the-art booking tool, online redemption tool and online restaurant reservations tool," he explains.
"Travel agents will still have a means of booking through us of course, but we have to keep in line with how we feel the market is moving."
As for booking trends, although 2008 has seen clients booking a few weeks earlier than usual in order to secure the flights and accommodation they require, both Kanoo's Knott and DTTAG's Fewtrell believe the market will remain a late booking one compared to other markets, perhaps exacerbated in some cases by the credit crunch as consumers and corporates delay their travelling decisions until the last minute.
"Booking trends won't change," says Fewtrell. "It's always been a late booking climate here and it will stay late."
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