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Innovation, sustainability and human resources top Arabian Travel Market Advisory Board agenda

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Middle East’s travel and tourism leaders come together to discuss key post-pandemic opportunities and challenges facing the industry today.

Arabian Travel Market (ATM), once again hosted an Advisory Board Meeting at the Address Skyview, Downtown Dubai, bringing together travel and tourism leaders and experts to discuss trending opportunities and challenges facing the industry post-pandemic.

ATM’s Advisory Board was set up to provide counsel on industry themes, challenges, growth opportunities and future strategies, while brainstorming other topics and issues for debate at ATM 2022, which takes place at Dubai World Trade Centre from 8-11 May.

Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director, Arabian Travel Market, said: “We wanted to connect with a broad range of industry stakeholders to fully appreciate their key issues. More importantly, how those issues might impact the hospitality and the regional tourism landscape, as we work to build the agenda for ATM 2022, providing more business opportunities for our exhibitors and visitors.”

Board attendees included Jamel Chandoul, SVP Retail ME&A, Amadeus; Gregory Fuller, Director of Brand Activation, Dubai Tourism; Mark Kirby, Head of Hospitality, Emaar Hospitality; Haitham Mattar, Managing Director, IHG; Ian Albert, CEO MENA, Colliers International; Jeff Strachan, Director, Dubai College of Tourism; Sandeep Walia, COO, Marriott International; Raki Phillips, CEO, RAKTDA; Mohamed Awadalla, CEO, TIME Hotels; Mohammad Al Hashimi, VP Commercial, Emirates; Bilal Kabbani, Sector Lead Branding, MENA Google; Marloes Knippenburg, CEO, Kerten Hospitality; and Guy Hutchinson, President & CEO, Rotana.

“During the debate which took place on 23 rd November, three main topics came to the fore – innovation, attracting and retaining talent and sustainability, which will certainly feature in our seminar programme next year,” added Curtis.

In terms of innovation, the board debated how the pandemic had accelerated the adoption of digital and technology in general and that companies were now focused more on innovating and leveraging third party data to adapt to the new normal. Examples used were the ways in which organisations were actively searching to simplify the payment process and defragment the way content is being pushed to customers. Furthermore, the board discussed the need for investment to facilitate the travel experience, ensuring customers felt safe through a frictionless journey.

Although members agreed that technology would never totally replace human interaction, offering choice was imperative. By limiting the need to interact physically, the risk of further contamination could be reduced, highlighting the need to integrate all tech’ products for mainstream travel sectors, accommodating, wherever possible, a seamless travel experience.

“The Middle East’s track record is especially strong in this area, having taken advantage of cutting-edge services and technologies to bring luxury travel to millions, however it was acknowledged that tourism and hospitality is still being disproportionately affected by the fallout from Covid-19.

“Supporting sector-specific innovation and bringing it to market, therefore, has never been so important – both in terms of the immediate recovery and longer-term sustainability,” added Curtis.

Turning to sustainability, the board discussed the positive trend of environmentally friendly practices and how essential it was, especially when reaching out to younger travellers. Google’s recent sustainability rating for hotels, was an example cited of reacting to such a trend, however although great strides had been made further investment would be required, whether through private or government support.

Another salient point that was raised, was the link between sustainability and talent acquisition – hospitality school and university graduates would be far more willing to embark on a career in an industry that was environmentally responsible.

It was widely accepted that there was an industry-wide shortage of talent. Although the pandemic hit the travel and tourism community harder than most, few sectors escaped its negative impact, which is why the travel and tourism sector will need to face up to the challenge of competing with multiple markets to attract the brightest new employees, graduates and innovators.

The board also recognised that many people had witnessed another aspect of the work life balance having spent extended periods working from home and the flexibility and convenience that affords. The industry would need to start reconnecting through platforms such as ATM to better understand the expectations and aspirations of the future generations coming into the industry.

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