One of the hazards of walking the busy floors at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai this week is that at least half the visitors have their attention fixed full time on their mobile phone (or in many cases, phones) rather than where they are walking.
In Dubai itself, mobile penetration has reached a staggering 233% and enthusiasm for smartphones is evident at every turn.
Little surprise then that one of the dominant technology themes of the show was mobile.
Nasser Batha, Amadeus’ Regional Markets Director for the Middle East and North Africa, says that as the industry accelerates towards online bookings, mobile will quickly start taking a chunk of that. “We estimate that of the €36bn of revenues from travel bookings in this region, about 15% currently come from online but that’s growing, and will reach 22% by 2015.”
By that time, he says, about 10% of that will come from mobile, rising to 25% by 2020.
Many of the pieces of the eco-system to make that happen are already in place. Large screen phones running on high-speed networks are providing a compelling user experience while simple consumer access to applications has been established through iTunes, Android market place and other ecosytems.
The travel technology sector has been playing its part. The Amadeus Mobile Traveller, an integrated mobile app supporting pre-, post- and in-trip was launched at ATM in 2012, allowing agents to put their services directly onto customers’ home screens on iOS, Blackberry, Android and Wap-enabled phones.
Shibu George, Business Solutions Manager for Amadeus MENA, says uptake since had been a little slower than expected but that he believed momentum was growing as key issue such as payment platforms were solved.
“There has been more interest at the show this year. Agents would like help understanding how to market this, but they are keen,” he says.
Charmaine Fernz, editor of Travel Daily Middle East, said that mobile was a focus of many discussions with agents, who needed to adapt their business and needed interactive tools that made bookings easier.
“The industry is changing and the traveler also. It’s going to be very important to be catering for a more experienced traveler,” she said.
The Middle East feels ready to embrace that change.