The world’s travel trade descends on Dubai this week to cut new deals and party like there are no dark economic clouds hanging over us. They’re all here for Arabian Travel Market (ATM), the region’s biggest trade show for everyone in the travel and tourism industry. It begins today at the Dubai World Trade Centre, and runs until Thursday. We cornered Exhibition Manager Nadège Noblet for a chat about gorillas, travel disasters and the show.
Keith Fernandez (KF): I hear you just got back from Rwanda. How awesome was that?
Nadège Noblet (NN): Rwanda was fantastic! I went there with my husband to fulfil a life-long dream to visit the gorillas in their natural habitat. It was part of a responsible trip arranged through the Government of Rwanda, which limits the amount of daily permits, to reduce human interaction in order to protect and preserve their natural environment and behaviour.
KF: You’ve got three nations vying for the New Frontiers Award — when is it a good time to start travelling back to crisis-hit destinations?
NN: The New Frontiers Award is presented to a destination that has made an outstanding contribution to overcome natural disasters in the face of overwhelming adversity. So these nations — Nepal, the Philippines and Taiwan — will now already be in state of recovery. I remember the very first award that went to Phuket in 2005 for its heroic response to the devastating tsunami in December 2004. Amazingly, the resort was back welcoming tourists within months, which was awe-inspiring.
KF: And what destinations are you really excited about at ATM this year?
NN: There’s a number of new destinations this year as well as some very exciting products being showcased at ATM for the first time. New destinations include Panama, Guangzhou, Orlando, Zanzibar, the Dominican Republic and Kenya. Closer to home, the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai will be on show, which I’m sure will be a big hit with visitors.
KF: Panama, here we come! Seriously though, it seems not a week goes by without a new low airfare deal. But can anyone really afford to travel now?
NN: The International Air Transport Association has forecast up to 3.6 billion global passengers this year, up from 3.5 billion passengers last year so that’s an increase of about 100 million or put another way, 270,000 more passengers every day.
KF: With a lowered growth outlook, is it a good time to ask for better discounts?
NN: Keep a look out I’d say, especially if you are flexible with your dates and can travel midweek for example and out of peak school holiday periods. There’s always a bargain to be had if you’re open-minded about destinations as well.
KF: So are travel agents really relevant anymore? We’re all agents nowadays; what services can agents give me that I can’t do myself?
NN: Travel agents are as relative today as they have always been. If you want to spend hours trawling the net looking for the best retail deals, go for it. Agents will give you professional advice about destinations and insurance, not an anonymous online review, and often they can still get access to trade rates simply through the volume of bookings they place. But for me one of the real benefits is their support should something go wrong. If your flight is cancelled, or the operator of an excursion doesn’t turn up, wouldn’t you rather have a professional deal with this?
KF: Sometimes, with all the bad news about travel, I feel I’m safer staying home under my duvet! Why should I travel at all?
NN: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the choice to stay under the duvet all day! Unfortunately most of us need to work, which for many of us entails travelling whether it’s on foot, by car, bus, metro, taxi, plane or even bicycle, each carrying a degree of danger every day. Air travel statistically is still the safest form of travel. So here’s a few facts to entice you from under your duvet. In 2014, there were 641 fatalities out of 3.3 billion journeys, so if you were to fly every day of your life, you would experience one major accident every 19,000 years. According to the UK National Safety Council, you’re 12 times more likely to have an accident while walking. Have you ever heard anyone say “I’m not going to walk again — it’s too dangerous?”