Experiential Travel: ‘Travellers looking beyond conventional leisure itineraries, seek uncharacteristic experiences’

Simon Press, Senior Exhibition Director, ATM elaborated on relevance of ‘Experiential Tourism’ as the main theme of ATM 2017. Excerpts

Q. What is the idea behind ‘Experiential Tourism’ being the main theme of this year’s ATM? How relevant is this in the current scenario?

Travellers are increasingly looking beyond conventional leisure programmes and itineraries to actively seek out atypical experiences that deliver a true taste of local culture. Experiential travel encompasses the adventure, culture, heritage, wellness & spa, and cruise tourism segments, which are currently trending globally.

Today we see brands and tourism industry stakeholders offering their guests intangible and emotional experiences, immersing them in local culture, and traditional ways of life. It’s an appeal that can be successfully transferred to backpackers and billionaires alike.

This growing trend is now on the radar of the region’s tourism chiefs. The Middle East has an abundance of authentic local experiences to offer from overnight stays in a stone house in remote Omani villages to Old Dubai walking tours that search out the best street food.

Elsewhere, the meteoric rise in the popularity of Airbnb and volunteer tourism are just some of the ways the industry has evolved to capitalise on the growing trend, while bringing new players into the market. At ATM 2017, there will be a focus on converting these concepts into viable commercial realities to broaden the appeal of Middle East destinations and increase their visitor numbers and revenues, which can support sustainable economic development.

Q. How important is it to promote ‘Experiential Tourism’?

Experiential travel takes visitors away from the traditional beach and sightseeing holidays to immerse them in culture and custom, Arabic tradition or thrill-seeking activities, such as desert safaris. People no longer want to be observers when they travel, but want to be involved in the destination and educated by its people and ways of life. This behavioural shift among travellers allows ATM 2017 to highlight the unique nuances of the regional industry to present data, and insight, on areas that will become a major focus over the coming years.

Q. What would be the highlights of ATM 2017?

We have four major new additions for the 2017 show: the Digital Transformation Summit, the Halal Tourism Summit, the UNWTO Summit and ILTM Arabia. The Digital Transformation Summit, takes place in the Travel Tech theatre and will explore how the travel businesses is responding to the demands of the digital world. Sessions in the Travel Tech Theatre will include ‘The New Age Travel Agent’, which will assess how smart travel agents are evolving to meet the needs of today’s travellers.

The Halal Travel Summit takes place on the Global Stage and will showcase leading Muslim travel industry experts including, Rafi-uddin Shikoh, CEO of DinarStandard and Faeez Fadhlillah, CEO of Salam Standard and Tripfez who will discuss the big picture, halal destination strategies and how to sell halal travel.

In response to the Middle East’s growing international luxury travel market, ILTM Arabia will showcase the buoyant market for luxury products and experiences that define the region’s outbound travel market. Co-located with ATM 2017, ILTM Arabia will target high net-worth travellers from throughout the GCC and wider Middle East region, with buyers from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar expected to have a particularly strong presence. Targeting the region’s highest net worth travellers, this is an invitation only event. The largest exhibition in ATM’s history, the show will welcome back the Leaders’ Breakfast; Wellness & Spa LoungeTravel Agents’ Academy; Travel Tech Show; the Buyers’ Club; and the Bloggers’ Speed Networking.

Q. How useful has ATM been for Indian exhibitors over the years? How is their number growing?

The GCC is a relative sleeping giant in terms of travellers to India. It is just over three hours away by aeroplane, which makes for a perfect short break destination. While plans by the Indian Government to issue five-year multiple entry business visas to UAE businessmen from April and, within a couple of months, making the facility available to tourists from the UAE and wider GCC countries, should also see travellers from the region flock to their near neighbours.

India will be under the spotlight at this year’s Arabian Travel Market, with a number of travel and hotel brands present in the hospitality and technology exhibitions. This includes: Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, The Oberoi Hotels, Spiceland Holidays, India; Ottila International; Cox and Kings, Atmantan Wellness Resort; Tamarind Tours Pvt. Ltd; and Zuri Hotels & Resorts Pvt. Ltd. Technology companies like Rezlive Fore Representations and Ottila have increased their stand size and companies like Rate Gain are introducing new products at the show.

Q. What would be your suggestions for the first-time exhibitors at ATM? How can they get maximum value for their money?

We offer a simple package to all new exhibitors of additional promotion via the ATM website, email campaign and official publications helping to increase their visibility amongst the mass of seasoned exhibitors. For exhibitors, the Data Scanner app-loaded iPod can scan exhibitor and visitor badges to make contact details more accurate and follow-ups more convenient. Exhibitors can also take advantage of the ATM Exhibitor Portal to help promote key messages to the media.

Q. What are the new trends and practices at trade shows like ATM?

The show has experienced phenomenal growth of over 70% since 2012 and this year already looks like it’s going to break all previous records. We have more than 100 new exhibitors signed up and 65 country pavilions, while we expect representation from 140 countries over the course of the event. Clearly Expo2020 is driving growth in Dubai as the emirate aims to complete 160,000 hotel rooms in time to welcome an additional five million visitors over the course of the event. However, the GCC countries as a whole are looking towards tourism as a way of diversifying their economies away from their reliance on hydrocarbon receipts.

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