Insights From a New Middle East Travel Report

By Mona Faraj, Managing Director, HSMAI Middle East

While the Middle East remains a region that loves to travel, a new study suggests that the search for value plays a decisive role in how today’s travelers research, compare, and book their journeys in this part of the world. The Middle East Consumer Travel Report 2018 — sponsored by Amadeus, Tajawal, and Jumeirah Hotels, and developed by InsightOut Consultancy — explores the searching and planning habits of the region’s travelers in a digital era.

The report acknowledges that while the Middle East is incredibly diverse when it comes to travel patterns, cost is a shared consideration across countries. Indeed, cost is cited most often by travelers as the first consideration when selecting their accommodation — more important than hotel location, classification, or rating. Similarly, nearly half of travelers cite budget as a main factor when choosing flights, more so than airline reputation and even the itinerary. As a result, one in three travelers today “actively search” for discounts online during the shopping process.

While value is a key driver in travel decisions, consumers in the Middle East are open to being influenced when searching for their destination. However, the expectations for traditional travel advisers are changing: Most travelers now visit a travel site or agency when they are ready to book, not when they are still planning their trip.

More people admit to being more influenced by friends, family, and colleagues than by search engines and review sites or actual travel agents. The report confirms that more travelers in the Middle East today will compare elements such as flights by themselves online instead of going to a travel agent to compare similar products and services. Similarly, 64 percent of corporate travelers prefer to search, book, and pay online for business trips — more than those who depend on their company or a travel agent (30 percent and 6 percent, respectively).

In a region where value is paramount, it is surprising that travel packages are generally not seen as an attractive way to find value when booking. Only 17 percent of the study’s respondents indicated that they book multiple components — flight, hotel, activities — in a package. Yet when a package is booked, once again cost is the number-one reason, more so than convenience or being inspired by travel packages on offer.

The report’s main recommendations for the travel sector in the Middle East include:

  • Travel sellers need to adopt a consultative approach to packaging clients’ requirements within designated budgets. Travelers understand the value of packages but want the freedom to customize these to suit their journey.
  • Travel sellers should focus on better communications for packages and their value in order to overcome the negative perception that they are difficult to tailor and just an up-sell of services.
  • Travel sellers should reconsider traditional channels of influence, with a focus on gaining positive endorsements from consumers directly rather than through paid media or paid social influencers.
  • Travel sellers’ marketing campaigns should focus on mobile channels that promote active awareness and involvement, rather than static offline communications that are now marginal and more related to passive awareness.

“By better understanding the key moments of truth throughout the customer journey, the region’s travel industry can shape even smarter, more attractive services in a competitive global marketplace,” said Antoine Medawar, vice president of Amadeus MENA. “Consumers all want a personalized and fulfilling travel experience, and travel companies need to be able to deliver value throughout that experience. This is where technology in particular will play a crucial role in keeping the Middle East travel sector moving forward.”

Cristina Polo, general manager of InsightOut Consultancy, added: “Technology has completely changed the way we research and book travel. In the Middle East, that has empowered individuals to have more control of their trips. This has placed additional pressure on the travel-sector community to offer products that meet customers on their own terms, considering that demographics have become the game changer in this region.”

Insight Type: Articles