The Arabian Travel Market (ATM), is the leading global event for the Middle East travel and hotel industry. The event, a quarter of a century old, generates more than $2.5 billion of industry deals. The annual business-to-business (B2B) exhibition showcases more than 3,000 products and destinations from around the world to more than 50,000 exhibitors/buyers and travel trade visitors across four days at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC).

But why was Dubai chosen to host this event at all? Dubai has one of the most stable economies and is one of the safest cities in the world. It also hosts the world’s largest and busiest airport with 92 million travellers in 2018 (London, UK #2 is 80 million). Interesting to note, Dubai, with a population of 2.75 million had arrivals of 15 million in 2018. It will have, by 2020 for Dubai’s World Fair, 175,000 hotel rooms. Consider this in comparison to New York City, which had a population in 2018 of 8.9 million. New York had 60 million travellers in 2018 and will have this year, 225,000 hotel rooms, only 50,000 more rooms than Dubai.  Putting this in perspective, Dubai has a lot of hotel rooms for a quarter of the population and less than a quarter of the tourist arrivals. Interestingly, in 1980, 40 years ago, Dubai had about 11 hotels and 3,000 hotel rooms. To include Canada into the equation, in the entire country, we have only 425,000 hotel rooms and 15.5 million arrivals in 2018.

Historically, Dubai was sustained by fishing and pearl diving for a thousand years with the first records of Dubai being made in 1799 when the Bani Yas clan established it as a dependency of Abu Dhabi. Dubai became a separate Sheikhdom in 1833. The invention of artificial pearls in 1926 and the Great Depression in 1929 caused a collapse in the pearl market, which resulted in Sheikh Saeed looking for an alternative source of income and Dubai becoming one of the leading re-export ports in the world. In 1966, oil was discovered in Dubai, which changed the country beyond recognition and led to Dubai becoming a vibrant, modern, business-centered city.

Initially, the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai started as a result of the growth of the real-estate market in Dubai, which had more condominium construction at the time than Toronto has in 2019. Dubai has grown to be one of foremost modern hotel cities of the world, with every major hotel brand and most independents represented with at least one hotel. All of Marriott’s 31 brands are represented, as are Hilton’s and InterContinental’s.

The ATM in 2019

The ATM is the only major trade fair in the World that has free admission. Crowds of business people around talking to each other in a party atmosphere as all booths offer free refreshments and food. This year show opened with free seminars such as Revenue Management, Etiquette for the Region. The organizers also provided promotional activities on how to attract more visitors from two of the world’s biggest inbound source markets, China and India. Educational seminars featured a seminar on the Three Pillars of Sustainability (economic, social and environmental). Other panels focused on how technologies old and new (from blogs to podcasts to virtual reality) are being used to virtually transport the customers to destinations and sell them the products. During the Global Halal Tourism Summit, some of the world’s leading Halal-friendly destinations were on hand to discuss their success in developing Muslim-focused tourist offerings, revealing exactly how they are tapping into the top Muslim tourist market.

A large contingent of cruise guests attended this year’s edition — not surprising, since Dubai was originally settled by pearl divers and the cruise business is vital to the economy. The regions one million cruise tourists for the World Fair in starting in the fall of 2020. 

On the final day, May 1st, the ATM Travel Agents Academy was in action. This very popular initiative saw travel agents receiving invaluable destination briefings and honing their sales and presentations skills in the half day free workshop.

Due to its location, the ATM, needs to offer added value to attract exhibitors, attendees and buyers.  Especially since the adage that Dubai is a “cheap” place to visit and shop is long gone.  It’s now easily as expensive for shopping and eating out as are New York and London.  And, hotel accommodation rates exceed Toronto’s, and Airbnb has yet to get a foothold in the region.


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