Arabian Travel Market (ATM), held April 24 to 27, is the leading global event for the Middle-East travel and hotel industry. The annual business-to-business exhibition — now a quarter-century old — generates more than $2.5 billion of industry deals and showcases more than 3,000 products and destinations from around the world. More than 50,000 exhibitors, buyers and travel-trade visitors gather for four days at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Dubai was chosen to host this event because it has one of the most stable economies and is one of the safest places in the world. It also hosts the world’s largest and busiest airport, with 84 million travellers in 2016. By 2020, Dubai, with a population of 2.75 million, will have 150,000 hotel rooms.

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 it becoming a vibrant, modern, business-centered city.

Initially, the Arabian Travel Market started as a result of the growth of the real-estate market in Dubai, which has more condominium construction than Toronto. Dubai has grown to be one of the foremost modern hotel cities of the world — every major hotel brand and most independents have at least one hotel there. All of Marriott’s 30 hotel brands are represented, as well as all of Hilton’s and InterContinental’s brands.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum opened the show at 1 p.m. on April 24th. The event is the only major trade fair in the world that is free to attend and offers seminars on topics such as revenue management, etiquette for the region, et cetera. 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. During the event, they held educational seminars, including one by Jan Albreck, CEO of Saudi Arabian Airlines, which featured an insightful one-on-one interview exploring Saudi’s considerable investments in a new airline fleet. There was also a showcase on sustainability — the three pillars of sustainability being economic, social and environmental. Other panels discussed how technology — from blogs to podcasts to virtual reality — are used to virtually transport the customers to destinations and sell them products. The Global Halal Tourism Summit highlighted some of the world’s leading Halal-friendly destinations and their success in developing Muslim-focused tourist offerings.

The topic of blurred lines between online and offline travel was covered in a session which took an in-depth look at the opportunity for forward-thinking travel businesses to offer and capitalize on a wide range of touch points.

On the final day, the ATM Travel Agents Academy was in action. This popular initiative saw travel agents receiving invaluable destination briefings and honing their sales and presentation skills in a half-day free workshop.

Stephen J. Renard is president of Toronto-based Renard International Hospitality Search Consultants


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