For 30 years, Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai has served as a staging ground for discussions on the travel industry’s hottest trends. What started as a relatively humble conference to boost tourism in the Middle East has since transformed into a global extravaganza. This year’s event, which opened at the World Trade Centre on Monday with more than 2,000 exhibitors from 150 countries, is expected to see 34,000 visitors by the time it closes on Thursday.
What sets this year’s ATM apart is its sensitivity to the evolving needs of a more anxious, more socially conscious planet. Business travel is usually seen by companies as an unavoidable expense, but holidays are about avoiding — escaping from the worries of the world and seeing something new. But in a world with rising and inescapable complexities, a new breed of discerning traveller wants to get away guilt-free, knowing that their holiday plans are not only fun, but sensible, ethical and sustainable. For an industry that has, for many decades, ridden on the back of carbon-fuelled transportation, expecting a sudden environmental streak may seem like asking a lot.
The travel sector, of course, is no stranger to buzzwords, and “sustainable travel” has been a regular part of the industry lexicon for a few years now. But 2023’s ATM is a chance for exhibitors — which include national tourism boards, aviation giants, hoteliers and tour companies — to show they are not in the business of greenwashing. “Working towards net zero” is this year’s theme, and future generations of travellers are as much the target demographic as those who have itchy feet today.
To help digest the mammoth task of growing the travel industry without enlarging its footprint, ATM organisers have given space in the agenda to conversations about technology, AI and big data, and the role they can play in making travel more efficient.
A day-one discussion on big data is reminiscent of the 20th ATM, in 2013, when the organisers grabbed headlines by partnering with Google. The event had a “Technology Theatre”, where the tech giant provided up-to-the-minute travel global data and gave talks on how the information age will set the stage for a travel revolution.
Today’s data technology is lightyears ahead of what existed 10 years ago, but the appetite for data science in the travel sector has only grown with it. This year is another step forward in the process to get the world moving after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, and industry leaders will be keen to understand how and why certain destinations are more attractive than others. In a world of high inflation and buoyant oil prices, they will also want a precise idea of consumer price sensitivity, and what innovations can increase scale without sacrificing quality.
The best holidays rarely come without effort or expense, as most seasoned travellers will attest. But those who work in travel will know that the true difficulty lies in all the behind-the-scenes effort the industry puts in to create perfect getaways, whether for business or leisure. Every year, the task gets more complicated, but industry convenings like ATM are critical to ensuring that developments keep moving in the right direction.