Business travellers comprise one third of visitors in GCC

Business tourists in the GCC comprise of one in three of all tourists in the region, a study conducted by Strategy & in 2015 revealed

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Business tourists in the GCC comprise of one in three of all tourists in the region, a study conducted by Strategy & in 2015 revealed. This is a high number when compared with the worrying statistic that suggests only 2% of global exhibitions take place in the Middle East, according to the same study.

The Meetings, incentives, conferences, and events (MICE) market has grown rapidly in the GCC and particularly in Dubai, which in 2015 held nearly 27% market share of the $1.3 billion MICE GCC market.

Outbound travel from the Middle East, according to United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)’s 2015 Tourism Highlights, numbered approximately 37 million people for 2014 and accounted for 3.3% of the global outbound market. A study conducted by Frost & Sullivan and Insights Middle East for Amadeus in 2014, estimated the total value of outbound travelers from the GCC at $64 billion. The same study estimated the average spend in GCC countries for inter-regional travel at $4,980 and for international business travel at $9,920. These statistics clearly reflect the immense potential for business and MICE travel from the region.

Speaking of luxury travel, according to a study by 2014 online survey conducted by YouGov, the average spend by luxury travelers from the MENA region is $8,310 while the average length of the trip is 5.1 nights. However, for sustained growth in the coming years, challenges that both the MICE and luxury travel sectors for both inbound and outbound travelers need to be addressed.

“We truly think that the easiness of access via direct airline connectivity is key. Time is too important for people and changing flights 3 times is not acceptable for business travelers,” noted Mikael Lambotte, Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski München, and Jason Warren, Conference & Touring.

This is true for both inbound and outbound GCC business tourists, as well as luxury tourists. Changing attitudes and requirements for more experiential, cultural, and sight-seeing tours rather than the previously strong preference for shopping, are also challenges that MICE, hospitality and travel sectors are facing.

“Furthermore, security plays an important role as travelers should always feel secure while meeting or discovering a new city,” noted Lambotte and Warren. Security concerns are not isolated to GCC countries only, but are indeed a global issue for MICE, travel and hospitality industry personnel.

When it comes to luxury travel, the challenges are more intense. Keeping in line with global changing tastes and attitudes, luxury travelers too are looking for more value for their money. While this does not necessarily mean cheaper, it does mean more benefits such as personalization, simplification, and seamless services. Another challenge in luxury travel is the changing nature of group travel, where multi-generational travel is now becoming the norm.

Speaking on the luxury travel market from the GCC, Lambotte andWarren agreed that market “has been growing over the past 10 years and should keep growing the next 5 years. Every year the demand in Munich has been increasing by 5% in the luxury sector.”

However, competition from emerging and developing market further complicates the landscape for MICE and luxury travel. The 4th annual MICE Arabia Congress provides a huge advantage for participants by “focusing and guaranteeing the attendance of qualified corporate decision makers and MICE agencies,” noted Aishvarya Guhagarkar, Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau. “The choice for suppliers to preselect the buyers they want to meet and vice-versa ensures good quality one -to-one pre-arranged meetings. In addition, the speakers and panelist share real time insights, current trends and exchange of ideas,” she added.

“At the 4th edition of the MICE Arabia Congress, the trends and challenges in the industry will be discussed, in addition to other crucial subjects,” said Sidh N C, Director, QnA International, speaking on the agenda of the conference.

The two-day 4th annual MICE Arabia Congress will open tomorrow (March 1) at the Palazzo Versace, Dubai.

This article first appeared in the Saudi Gazette on Feb. 29, 2016.