Over the last several years, tourism in the Middle East has grown tremendously. The beautiful architecture and historic sites are what attracts tourists to travel to this part of the world. Tourists are interested in traveling to key areas of the Middle East such as Israel, Turkey, UAE, Egypt, and Jordan.
As of 2019, the Middle East and North Africa gained more than 127 million international arrivals, the highest figure for the region so far. It has passed other popular destinations such as South Africa with 14 million and South Asia at 26 million.
The Middle East was the second-best performer in terms of travelers visiting the region in the latest years, showing an annual growth rate of 5.3% in 2019. In terms of nations, Oman showed the best improvement in aspects like international openness and environmental sustainability.
Another example is Israel, which has gained a lot of tourists and travelers from all over the world through religious trips like Birthright or Passages, mission trips, advocacy trips, and leisure travel, over the past few years . According to WorldData.info, in 2019, Israel had around five million tourists.
The other reason why people visit the Middle East is for businesses. Tel Aviv, for example, is home to many startup companies. Silicon Wadi, one of the world’s major hi-tech hubs, is located in the heart of Tel Aviv. Israel has the highest number of start-ups per capita of any country on the planet, approximately six thousand startups in Israel.
Here at UpStay, we are a part of this travel tech ecosystem working over the past two years with real time data of hoteliers within the region helping them to increase their profit and make good use of guest engagement and expansion. That is why, when earlier in June, our partner Siteminder contacted us to participate in the webinar “What hoteliers can do now to target the right audiences in the Middle East” we thought it was the perfect timing to share our experience in the region.
The webinar was hosted by Michael Edinger (SiteMinder) and we could exchange insights along with Adi Ohayon (Revenue Experts), Shifans Rauf (Hoteltime Solutions), Isabel Schmitt (RegiÔtels), Mai Shalaby (Cloudinn), experts from the hospitality industry also in the Middle East market.
Instead of other travel tech events, the webinar covered a fully practical approach with topics such as recommendations for focusing on and targeting goals, how to best target new and desired audiences, responding to OTA booking trends, capitalizing on direct bookings, and what hoteliers in the Middle East can thrive on right now.
Image of SiteMinder’s webinar “What hoteliers can do now to target the right audiences”
One of the points the participants dived into were the difference over the past months between domestic and international tourism. For example, the chart below showed that 47.22% of guests in the middle east region over the past 12 months were actually international travelers, and 52.78% are domestic travelers.
In Egypt, and other parts of the Middle-East, domestic percentages are higher than 50%, and most of the cases maybe 60% or 70%.” commented Mai Shalaby of Cloudinn.
“When you have a dimension within the larger areas in Israel, the occupancy is very high, but hotels in Tel Aviv, which are a mix of business and pleasure, also really rely on traffic from outside the country.” Tzafrir commented to the audience.
The first topic discussed in the webinar, were the priorities into what hoteliers should target and focus to get a faster recovery during 2021.The most relevant to consider are:
1. Increase your margins
It is a very important goal for hotels to have in terms of growth within the business. It will also be beneficial in terms of gaining revenue for the hotel. One example of a way to increase margins for a hotel is to increase rates and lower operating costs.
2. Capitalize on direct bookings
There are different ways for hoteliers to increase direct bookings rather than sticking to OTAs. Some examples include being responsive online, being active on social media, leaning towards a loyalty program, and creating an eye-catching website.
This was extensively discussed during SiteMinder´s talk on how to increase direct bookings, the encouragement of benefits and amenities and how to uncover untapped opportunities in the post-booking phase.
3. Practice Guest Expansion
Many hotels fail to invest in the proper ancillary revenue generation. A whopping 90% of hotels don’t offer the same ancillary products to all of their customers. Others offer products and services that are either outdated or simply not that popular, completely missing out on making any revenue on extra services, even though 60% of guests would gladly pay more for these services. So, why aren’t hotels taking advantage of this?
By improving their add-on services for already interested customers, hotels could drastically increase their revenue. To help the hospitality industry solve this exact problem, UpStay is using a sophisticated technology to usher in a new era of hotel management. Guest Expansion is a new concept that the hospitality industry needs to embrace and to optimize their revenue during the post booking phase. Hotels can leverage this new opportunity and unlock new benefits.
“So, to add another kind of amenity or meal, there could be many things in it, depending on the hotel. So the numbers uncover great opportunities, and I think that if you are communicating the benefits and also executing on the data once the guests are there, then you’re capturing the value from both sides.” Tzafrir Blonder states in the webinar.
4. Target new and desired audiences
Another important topic discussed during the webinar was how hoteliers should collect as much information about their potential customers as possible. The speakers agreed to do research on different feeder markets and channels to attract, gain any necessary information about new target audiences, and to have a broad overview of them.
Some ways in which a hotelier can target new audiences include surveying guests, using Google Analytics, reading online reviews, using sales and CRM softwares, and taking opinions from social media into consideration.
Doing this research will give you a better idea of where these potential customers are coming from, what is going on in the market, and who is interested in the hotel.
“We can start looking into my interest feeder markets, and then we have a broad overview over these feeder markets, and then we have different possibilities to target these feeder markets and everything.” commented Isabel Schmitt during Siteminder’s webinar.
Hoteliers should also consider having an updated website and a booking engine with the same information. This will make it easier for different feeder markets to access the website and booking engine for reservations, Isabel Schmitt (RegiÔtels) explained.
It is also very important to have the website and your booking engine in all different languages since not all of the potential feeder markets speak English, this would make the reservation process easier for customers.
Image of Tzafrir Blonder of UpStay discussing his insights with other hospitality leaders
5. Finding the right response to OTA booking trends
Finding ways to respond to OTA booking trends is another priority for hoteliers during this recovery period.
One of the OTA booking trends right now is flexibility. It is essential for hotels to be flexible with their guests in terms of last minute bookings and cancellations.
“Flexibility now is what we need. We have already seen before the pandemic that people tend to book late and that they want Flexibility.” Isabel Schmitt quotes.
One way in which hotels can be flexible with guests is to have a loyalty program and provide guests the option of redeeming points for every stay. This will benefit both the guest and hotelier because the guest can use points towards a free stay while the hotelier has a loyal customer.
Adi Ohayon, of Revenue Experts, quotes, “Yes, all the OTAs give us a lot of business, and at the same time, we do have to adapt our way of doing things because things have changed.”
The webinar also expressed the importance of having health and safety measurements on the hotel’s website. Potential guests can see what the hotel does in terms of keeping people safe from getting the coronavirus. This will make the guests determine if they feel comfortable with staying at the hotel.
Some examples of health and safety measures that hotels provide include mask wearing, hand sanitation, social distancing, and constant cleaning and sanitation of the property.
What can hoteliers in the Middle East thrive on right now?
Technology is growing for hoteliers in many ways such as contactless and mobile check-ins. Hoteliers should see the bigger picture and adapt to this growth because it will open their doors to opportunities such as gaining more reservations and revenue.
Tzafrir Blonder, CEO at Upstay, remarked that ‘’The most important thing right now, for hoteliers to find sustainable ways to increase their margins and to increase direct bookings, is to embed new technologies to do that and use packages in the distribution side. Remarked Tzafrir Blonder, CEO at Upstay.
A few examples of technologies that hotels should adapt to include touchless guest stays, strong WiFi, IoT-enabling cleaning protocols, and smart guest rooms.
If you are a hotelier looking for new solutions for your property, you can watch the full webinar here: https://siteminder-1.wistia.com/medias/5bs9vd6ha4