As it enters its fourth decade, Arabian Travel Market (ATM) will this year welcome thousands of delegates to the dazzling emirate of Dubai. Speaking to Breaking Travel News, Danielle Curtis, ATM exhibition director, reveals there is a feeling of confidence in the Middle East tourism market as the event returns.
“This is our thirtieth anniversary - when we launched in 1994, we had 7,000 attendees from 52 nations, this year, we will welcome 2,000 exhibitors, with over 34,000 attendees from 150 nations. This is an excellent achievement – and one we are really pleased to share. These figures are up 27 per cent year-on-year in terms of exhibitor participation, though we are still slightly below the levels reached in 2019, pre-pandemic,” Curtis explains.
“Our goal is to be back to pre-pandemic levels next year.”
Curtis continues: “A lot of growth has come from the Middle East, with the expansion in ambition in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere, while we are also seeing growth from Asia and Africa. This has been led by the private sector, which has seen confidence return after a couple of tough years. Travel technology attendance is up 62 per cent, while key international hotel chains have increased their presence by 37 per cent – so this is a positive step.”
As part of milestone celebrations, ATM will be presenting a special award to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the travel and tourism industry in the Middle East over the past three decades. The winner will be revealed during the coming days.
Arabian Travel Week
ATM is this year part of Arabian Travel Week – which runs 1-10 May.
Curtis outlines her ambitions for the larger event: “There are many events in Dubai around the main show, and we embrace these and place them all under one umbrella. This is a celebration, a festival – so whether it is an awards ceremony, networking event or party, we are happy to welcome that to the schedule.
“We have ILTM Arabia, which brings the luxury market to the event, running for two days, as well as the start-up competition alongside Plug & Play. The latter will see innovative companies pitch sustainable ideas to impact on the travel industry.
“We also partner with the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) for a series of business travel forums, and the ITIC Tourism Investment Session. Travel Tech is also growing at a rapid pace, a brand within ATM, always evolving, which will explore travel technology.”
The theme of the 2023 show is ‘Working Towards Net Zero,’ with sustainability set to be ingrained in every element of ATM. “We have come a long way in the last couple of years – but we are also keen to look toward the future,” says Curtis.
“ATM has always been that key platform for the sector here in the Middle East – we bring together the region, while our international audience has also grown more over the last few years, outside of the pandemic. Covid-19 allowed us to stop, rethink and look at really what we are trying to achieve with ATM – and that has led us toward our theme this year, which is ‘Working Towards Net Zero’.
“This is very much in line with Dubai and the wider goals we have seen shared across the region when it comes to sustainability. There are ambitions within the region to tackle carbon output and to tackle the subject.”
RX – the organisers of ATM and nearly 400 other global events – are also playing their part, having made a sustainability pledge - taking in 30 different short- and long- term goals.
“As a company, we are looking to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2040,” adds Curtis.
The theme will be carried across all ATM communications, content, stages and platforms. The event will work to share best practice, knowledge and insights, along with the latest innovations, all of which are designed to accelerate the journey of tourism toward decarbonisation.
Custis adds: “There will the usual line-up of networking, speed- networking and social activities – but this year there will be a renewed focus on sustainability. We have launched a
sustainability hub, which offered bite-sized learnings on the show floor, where we will welcome key industry professionals to come and speak about best- practice or best-in-class initiative from the sector. We have also introduced a ‘best sustainable stand’ award, which will recognise the ‘best stand build incorporating sustainability initiatives’. This has seen a lot of interest already, from delegates and the wider industry, and we have seen eager exhibitors submitting their applications.”
In terms of delegates, the reopening of China and growth of India have both been well received.
“China has been closed for three years, so the reopening is really positive,” says Curtis. “This was a top source market, with 155 million tourists, spending US$250 billion overseas in 2019 – and it is great to see it begin to recover. Dubai itself welcomed one million Chinese guests in 2019, which was a 15 per cent increase over 2018 – a strong growth trajectory. These numbers suggest the United Arab Emirates, which has relaxed its visa regulations, is well-placed to benefit from the reopening, as is Saudi Arabia, which is making a big push into the tourism space. Egypt and Jordan are also following suit. We have seen an increase in flight schedules for the coming months, putting the region in a strong position.”
She adds: “India, too, has always been a top source market for guests in the Middle East, and for attendees coming to ATM. A lot of buyers come from the region, which has been a lucrative one for ATM.”
Tourism in the Middle East is also going from strength-to-strength after a difficult couple of years.
“The United Arab Emirates was exemplary in the way it reopened, post-Covid-19, the speed with which it opened, post-pandemic,” explains Curtis. “We saw confidence return in 2022, both from travelers arriving and businesses investing. The region has set ambitious goals for what it wants to achieve in terms of tourism and is quickly getting back to pre-pandemic levels. Dubai welcome 14.36 million international guests last year, and there is a lot of confidence around that. The emirate saw an occupancy rate in its hotels of 73 per cent last year, one of the highest in the world. There are expectations this recovery will continue, not just this year, but in the future, in Dubai and across the Middle East.”
She adds: “That said, this is not just a return to ‘business-as-usual,’ we are really focused on sustainable travel – not least through the arrival of COP 28 in the region this year. The Middle East will drive sustainability in this industry forward at a rapid pace. The GCC alone has 150,000 rooms in the development pipeline and under contract, so there is a lot of confidence here. There has been collaboration across the GCC region – and we have seen some great examples. Qatar welcomed the FIFA 2022 World Cup, which benefitted the whole region, while Expo 2020 here in Dubai was also a success. These types of events have a positive knock-on effect to the surrounding countries, and I see this combined approach being repeated in the future. This is a hub, and the connectivity is there, through and beyond Dubai, for everybody to benefit.”
More Information Arabian Travel Market
takes place at Dubai World Trade Centre from May 1st-4th this year. Find out more on the official website at www.wtm.com/atm.