GCC countries must marry the very latest attractions with their rich cultural offerings to maximise their tourism potential, according to panellists at the latest seminar session at Arabian Travel Market, entitled ‘The Real Deal: Why selling local experiences matters’.
Moderated by Karen Osman, Managing Director of Travel Ink, the discussion involved Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing; Saif Saeed Ghobash, Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority; Andy Levey, Head of Marketing, La Perle by Dragone (experiential partner at ATM 2017); and Simon Mead, Manager-Operations, Arabian Adventures-Destination Management Company of the Emirates Group.
Kazim, who revealed Dubai welcomed 4.57 million visitors in Q1 2017, an 11% increase on the same period last year, said: “We have focused a lot on highlighting the key propositions that already existed in Dubai, that not many people were familiar with, things that residents and locals took for granted.
“While we were showcasing the new developments in Dubai, such as the theme parks, the shopping malls and the Burj Khalifa, which were great to position us globally, the older parts, the souks, the abras, the spice and textile markets, those experiences are quite unique and the more we started taking travellers to these areas, we realised that the depth of Dubai’s offerings become much more relevant.”
Currently there are 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites within the GCC, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia seeking new listings. There are dedicated cultural villages such as Katara Cultural Village (Qatar), Saadiyat Island Cultural District (Abu Dhabi) and Sharjah Cultural Palace. And religious sites such as Masjid-Al-Haram (Makkah) and Sheikh Zayed Mosque (Abu Dhabi).
It was agreed that the social media revolution was also important to sell local experiences, along with the role bloggers and influencers now play in attracting travellers and campaigns such as #MyDubai and the award-winning Visit Abu Dhabi app, which is available in 10 languages.
Andy Levey, Head of Marketing, La Perle by Dragone said: “Everyone has a phone or a tablet; everyone is a publisher; everyone is a media company, whether they have 500 Facebook followers, a million snapchat fans. It’s an efficient and easy way to really publish what’s going on.
“And just because you’re sharing something, it doesn’t steal from the experience. It only whets the appetite for people to want more. It’s about what you’re wanting to convey to people that you really can’t convey in words or in a sentence and that’s where these mediums are so valuable.”
Saif Saeed Ghobash, Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority said: “A very important part of our success is having that well educated, well rounded Emirati, who can converse in many languages, who is a good ambassador, who can tell you everything about the destination. The person sitting with you in that car or walking around with you is the person who makes or breaks your experience. That’s not technology, that’s simply investment in training.”
Simon Mead, Manager-Operations, Arabian Adventures-Destination Management Company of the Emirates Group, said: “We’ve got a lot more experiences to offer families. We’re finding that families will combine cultural experiences with regards to either going into the desert in the morning and seeing how Bedouins fly the falcons, or visit museums, and they will combine those cultural experiences with the wonderful and the modern that you can experience throughout the MENA region.”