The revolving globe that is the centrepiece of the Emirates stand at the Arabian Travel Market show in Dubai tells a number of stories.
At its most basic level it houses an exhibition showcasing the latest in airborne luxury: the Shower Spa available to first class customers.
More than that though, it speaks eloquently to the airline’s aspirations as does the small concession on the back of the stand selling Emirates-branded goods (including cabin crew figurines).
The Emirates stand, and those of its local rivals around it, also speaks to the emerging regional ambition of making the Middle East the central hub for global travel: a luxurious gateway between the emerging Asian economies and the old world tourism and business destinations of Europe.
At midnight the previous evening in Dubai’s international airport, there was ample evidence that the ambition is being turned into reality. As passengers poured off flights from all over Europe and South Asia, still more prepared to head in the opposite direction and beyond. There was an energy and a vitality about the place that was almost tangible.
I experienced a similar phenomenon in Asia a couple of weeks ago at airports in both Singapore and Bangkok where the sheer vibrancy of the departure and arrivals areas was exhilarating. Airports offer a fleeting but enhanced experience of the change and growth in these dynamic and growing economies. There is a genuine sense of progress and movement – as well as a palpable feeling of confidence.
The Arabian Travel Market show illustrates how the broad travel industry aims to both drive that progress as well as capture some of its opportunities.
Housed in the same hall as Amadeus’ stand are the exhibitions of technology providers alongside the national tourist bodies of a huge number of countries looking to boost visitor numbers from the Middle East market. At the UK stand a woman dressed as Anne Boleyn (“I have put my head back on”), promotes her vintage costume photography business. She says that 80 per cent of her customers already come from this region.
In Malaysia, just a few dozen metres away, the attractions are more eye-catching still as a troupe of dancers in native costume have been entertaining visitors all day (and clogging one of the main thoroughfares into the hall). The far end of the hall from Amadeus is dominated by Turkish resorts and hotels, illustrating the importance of Arabian travelers to that market.
Across the hall, local exhibitors from across the Middle East – including Emirates and rival airlines as well as resorts and hotels – demonstrate a relentless pursuit of luxury and peerless service that is challenging the global industry to raise its game.
On Sunday, Dubai outlined its Vision 2020 for tourism, which aims to attract 20 million annual visitors to the emirate by 2020 – roughly double the number that visited in 2012. As with much of what I’ve seen in Dubai, this ambition is grand but equally – again in the context of what has been built here already – entirely reasonable as the region looks to draw inbound final destination travellers as well as tempting those in transit with a dizzying array of attractions on an extended stopover between East and West.
In its 2010 paper Securing the prize for the Middle East, Amadeus identified the potential for the region to emerge as the world’s leading travel hub.
As the world’s travel industry tilts eastwards on its axis, that prize looks increasingly within reach.