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Online travel bookings on the rise in Middle East

More customers are leaving traditional travel agents

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The internet has given customers greater access to information about destinations.
Gulf News

Dubai: Travel websites are increasingly becoming prime destinations for Middle Eastern travellers to browse and book flights.

According to a report by global travel market research company, PhocusWright, online bookings in the region are clocking a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 18 per cent (year on year) from 2010 until 2014.

“With the higher internet penetration, the market has become more receptive to online booking,” said Tarique Khatri, senior vice president at, a travel website with UAE operations.

Travel websites are seeing a rise in the number of travellers booking with them year-on-year, boosted in part by the proliferation of mobile devices that offer easy internet access.

Khatri views mobile devices as “the next big thing” in the industry.

Cleartrip’s recently launched mobile app is generating more bookings than its website, Khatri said. The site’s bookings were up 125 per cent in 2013 from 100 per cent last year.

Another industry trend is the localisation of a website to have a number of sites catering for different languages. With the UAE’s multinational residents, Khatri says this is pivotal in reaching out to target markets.

Cleartrip features a range of offers, including special fares for members of different communities; fares for popular destinations, as well as generic offerings for travellers that don’t plan ahead.

The internet has given customers greater access to information about destinations and airline products, which is very positive for the industry, according to Rashid Alawadi, retail manager at dnata travel agency.

“At dnata, we do find that when customers walk into our retail outlets or contact our call centre, they have a much clearer idea of where they want to go, who they want to fly with and the price range they want to pay. Access to information has also resulted in clients becoming more receptive to the advantages of booking in advance versus last minute,” Alawadi said.

In response to the growth of online customers, travel agencies have developed their online presence and are seeing the migration of some of their offline customers to their websites.

“There is a gradual shift from offline bookings to online,” said Premjit Bangara, general manager at Sharaf Travel, a travel agency which also provides online booking services. He added that the majority of their customers still book with travel agents, and that online bookings constituted “four to five per cent” of their turnover over the last year.

Online bookings in the region are expected to demonstrate strong growth in the next few years. The region’s online travel and leisure business market is expected to be valued at $16 billion between 2011 and 2013, according to the PhoCusWright report.

It further reveals that the UAE dominates the region’s travel market, accounting for almost half of its gross bookings and most of its online sales given the country’s highest online travel penetration.


Sarah Algethami is a trainee at Gulf News