Growth in Middle East travel bookings eases

Travel bookings for the Middle East have plummeted 50 per cent in the past two months.

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Travel bookings for the Middle East have plummeted 50 per cent in the past two months, according to Travelport GDS, one of the world's largest global distribution system (GDS) providers representing 1,300 travel agencies in the region. Travelport is the "plumbing" of the travel industry, providing online booking capabilities to travel agencies in more than 145 countries and also operating a business intelligence unit that offers consultancy services.

"Over the past months, we noticed that the Middle East has been experiencing double-digit growth in terms of travel bookings, but now it's a single-digit growth," said Gordon Wilson, the chief executive of Travelport. Rohit Talwar, the chief executive of the UK hospitality consultancy Fast Future, was not surprised. "This summer, we have already seen occupancy rates in Dubai hotels dropping by 25 per cent and now, when we are at the height of economic slowdown, Middle East tourism is bound to be affected," he said, adding that both airlines and hotels in the UAE had to consider slashing prices.

During the first six months of this year, the Middle East's revenue per available room (revPAR) grew by 21.6 per cent to US$135 (Dh496) compared with the same period last year, according to a recent study by the research firm Deloitte Middle East. "The region also had the highest occupancy and average room rates in the world at 75.3 per cent and $180, respectively," said Rob O'Hanlon, the tourism, hotel and leisure partner at Deloitte Middle East.

In Dubai, revPAR grew at a slower pace than last year, up 9.6 per cent to $274. The emirate also achieved the highest occupancy and average room rates of any city in the Middle East, at 85.3 per cent and $321. "But in order to sustain this growth, tourism authorities in the country have to realise that people have less money to spend on a holiday now," said Mr Talwar. In an effort to tap into the online travel market, which now dominates the travel booking market, Etihad Airways has signed a partnership agreement with Travelport GDS to provide it with information about its customers. "We are basically IT tools that will help track trends in the market, like the most popular destinations, and this in turn will help boost their growth," said Mr Wilson.

Travelport's new tool combines the ability to analyse booking data from various sources such as ticketing, sales, revenue and cost data in a single tool with a common user interface. Previously, airlines would use one tool to analyse booking data and another to analyse ticketing data. Mr Talwar believes that using IT solutions that would be able to aid the travel industry in the Middle East is a crucial step towards growth. "So far, we have seen a robust growth in the ... region but right now, when the climate is not in favour of this industry, it's time for businesses to move online and use technology to boost their business."

A study by Mintel, a UK-based research company, found that almost 40 per cent of UK holidaymakers now booked their travel independently, via websites - a figure that has doubled in the past five years.