Industry Leaders to Address Alternative Business Streams at Arabian Travel Market
While deteriorating global economic conditions look certain to dent the Middle East’s immediate inbound tourism growth, the burgeoning religious tourism sector – valued at $18billion per year - can play a decisive role in driving the region’s short-term industry revenues, says Kevin J Wright – President, World Religious Travel Association (WRTA).
The Middle East is already the world’s largest driver of religious travel, tourism and hospitality, with the sector fuelling the region’s current annual tourism growth of 11 percent per annum.
However, Wright insists specialist travel providers need to develop the best possible travel experiences to leverage income from the three billion people around the world who trace their religious roots and faiths to the Middle East.
“Religious tourism is recognised as one of the most resilient markets in the travel industry,” said Wright, who will conduct a seminar entitled ‘The New Era of Religious Tourism’ at May’s Arabian Travel Market - the Middle East’s premier travel and tourism event.
“Pilgrimages are not the sole driver of the religious market anymore and people of faith are increasingly seeking greater quality travel experiences across the full spectrum of sub-sectors which drive the industry,” he said.
“With more than 300 million global travellers annually, the faith-based travel and hospitality market provides destination management organisations, wholesalers, suppliers and travel agents unprecedented opportunities for new business avenues and clientele,” added Wright.
Saudi Arabia is the market’s primary driver, with the Islamic Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages seeing the Kingdom receive over six million worshipers annually.
“In Saudi Arabia alone the religious tourism industry generates an estimated US$7billion annually and with the market expecting 20 percent growth in the coming years, tour operators, hotels and airlines are already tailoring products to tap into the religious market,” said Wright.
However, he also identified Jordan and Palestine as growth markets: “Ninety-five percent of tourism in Palestine is religion-based, while Jordan is targeting tourism revenues of up to US$2.4billion, per year, by 2010 – over 60 percent higher than income generated in 2007.”
Iraq is also emerging as a serious player in the sector. Areas of religious significance, such as Najaf - home of the sacred shrine of the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) – already welcomes eight million pilgrims a year, but a new airport will increase inbound capacity to over 20 million.
“Investment must not only be married to existing opportunities, it needs to be focused on surrounding infrastructures to ensure the increased visitors experience quality services at affordable prices,” said Wright.
Citing Abu Dhabi as an example of how feeder destinations can benefit from mass pilgrimages to Saudi, Iraq and other holy sites, Wright added: “Abu Dhabi International Airport handled nearly 15,000 Hajjes last year, which increased its passenger traffic rates to Saudi Arabia by 34.5 percent – the potential for everyone in the region to benefit is astounding.”
Mark Walsh, Group Exhibition Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions - organiser of Arabian Travel Market, which takes place from 5-8th May, 2009 at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre - said the need to examine robust tourism revenue streams would be critical in ensuring the industry weathers the current economic downturn.
“Our industry is changing and tour operators and travel companies need to examine alternative business avenues to increase profits during these challenging times. The religious tourism market is one such possibility and remains extremely relevant to Middle East based operations. Through these informed discussion sessions, exhibitors and visitors alike can better understand the business potential available to them.”
Wright is the latest speaker to be announced for Arabian Travel Market 2009’s expanded seminar programme, which will cover a wide-range of key trends and issues during the 16 sessions planned for the four day event.
Boasting a strong line-up of industry leaders, the seminars will examine trends such as the global cruise industry, its market potential and development of the cruise sector in Gulf region; recruitment and retention best practice in the hospitality sector; the outlook for the Gulf meetings industry and the future of air travel in the Middle East.
The online portal for Arabian Travel Market can be found at www.arabiantravelmarket.com. Signing up early will allow visitors to take advantage of extensive e-networking tools that will allow them to link up with the most relevant industry players to their business.
Arabian Travel Market is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, and under the auspices of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Government of Dubai.
Visitor registration for Arabian Travel Market 2009 can be done through the show’s dedicated website on www.arabiantravelmarket.com/registertoday