Opinion: Why Middle East online travel bookings are booming

Rehlat, Tajawal, Cleartrip, Holidayme, Musafir, & Flyin, are some of the leading names in the Middle East online travel ecosystem – Middle East travellers are spoilt with choices for online travel booking.

But, the question that lingers is: how to do you stay ahead in a busy market. 

The Middle East travel has come a long way from people booking at the neighbourhood agency to going online.

The choices have also changed in a big way, with holiday goers moving on from favourites like Salalah and Sharm El-Sheikh to going on vacation to Georgia and choosing other European and Asian destinations.

Why the shift in Middle East travel

We looked into some reports and did a deep dive analysis of the travel sector for the Middle East projects. We found that sales are expected to more than double between 2018 and 2022, and the countries of the Middle East are witnessing tremendous growth, which is being led by those travelling from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is closely followed by Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, & Egypt. The main growth drivers include:

• High rates of Internet connectivity among population, which is over 90% in countries such as Bahrain and UAE.

• More than 7 in ten consumers in the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia own a smartphone.

• Young population with average age group between 30 and 35.

Source: Amadeus

Profiling Middle East travellers

Most of the Middle-Eastern travellers are young, wealthy and are looking for a premium holiday abroad, which includes shopping and fine dining as a must in their bucket list.

They account for 30% or more of the foreign clientele in the fashion and lifestyle stores in Europe. Most of these travellers choose Paris and London as they are the top destinations abroad.

Source: Rehlat

Middle East travellers have gone online and the shift has already happened. We at Rehlat have found that 38% or more travellers book their holidays through our app.

What makes the travellers prefer online agencies and other OTAs instead of choosing the neighbourhood local travel agents?

Here are the factors why the customers have choose online agencies:

• Language preferences available in (English and Arabic) with 24 x 7 availability to book their tickets

• Localised approach with Multilingual customer support

• Unbeatable airfares accompanied by exclusive discounts and last minute flight deals. Most of the OTAs have direct contacts with airlines and hotels bringing the best rates to their customers

• Great offers through alliances, example Rehlat bank offer with FAB bank or Mashreq bank helps the users to get the best prices while travelling.

• Payment settlement availability in local currencies (Kuwaiti Dinar, Emirati Dirham, Qatari Rial, Omani Rial, Bahraini Dinar, Saudi Riyal and Egyptian Pounds)

Source: Amadeus

However, flights or hotels are not the only thing that travellers are looking for. Most of the travellers expect the below services too for a hassle free trip for them and their family.

• Holiday packages

• Cab facilities

• Destination information

• Travel inspirations, & much more

Rehlat has already started travel inspirations blog where users can read and learn about new destinations and cultures; we have seen a tremendous uptick in user engagement and response for this new channel.

Tajawal introduced FIFA World Cup special holiday packages for football fans, and Holidayme now offering Eid Holiday packages which indicates that not only the travel choices are shifting, but also what OTAs are offering.

But what remains to be seen is if the OTAs are ready for future demands in the travel technology and how far they will go to keep their customers hooked to them because next wave will be more about integrating travel end to end along with hand holding users post tickets are booked with high quality post-sales support.

The race has begun with online travel officially taking over the Middle East region.

Winning in the Middle East is about gaining trust and reaching out to a larger customer base, those who can resonate with the brand and their values, something all the companies realise as they get their respective arsenals sharpen to come out the top in the long-drawn battle and we wish them all the best. As they say, ‘May the best player win’.

Amanpreet Singh is chief operating officer at Rehlat. 

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