Will 2014 be the year of technological change?

Daniel Andrews

Region’s travel trade appear to be slow on the adapting to consumer online needs

It is fair to say that the Middle East travel trade is an individual case when it comes to operations and customer interaction. Some would argue that the region is still behind in the times when comparing business models on a global playing field, especially when technology is concerned.

One of the primary reasons for this is how Middle East nationals generally prefer the personal contact with their travel agent and in many occasions a whole family use the same travel agent for all their travel needs.

However, times are changing. According to research released towards the end of last year, British Airways revealed that Emiratis now prefer to book online. Its figures found that when questioned, 75% of UAE nationals book their flights online rather than over the phone or through a travel agent, the highest rate from across the Middle East region.

The UAE is not alone in this trend. An earlier report from PhoCus Wright found that online hotel bookings in the region were steadily on the increase. The findings highlighted that bookings for accommodation from the GCC totalled $1.6 billion, 10% of which were made online.

With the region's own residents becoming more tech savvy when it comes to travel purchases, surely the industry, there to serve consumer holiday needs, should be in a position to be already equipped to facilitate its clients demands? Unfortunately this is not always the case.

While a number of travel agencies across the region have already implemented firm strategies and launched its own online platform, some of which have been operating for some time, there are still a number who are still considering their options when it comes to an online portal.

I have spoken to a large percentage of leading agencies operating in the Middle East and a large majority of them are stating that 2014 is the year in which they will launch their online platform.

In the past six months I have attended a number of travel trade events with technology suppliers all delivering the same message: 'Act now before it is too late'.

So why is the trade still not ahead of the curve? Surely with the number of those promoting online platforms, the growing resources available at affordable costs, and with the pressure of online businesses cutting into offline agencies, the trade would want to promote itself and acquire bookings from all available avenues?

Whatever the case as to why the industry is slow on the technology uptake, it is clear that the time is now, and agencies should act sooner rather than later to ensure that they are a player in the region's growing online market place, or lose out to their more embracing competitors.

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