Day by day, online tourism domain is gaining strength all over the world, and the Middle East is also no exception in this context. However, the experts at the GCC e-tourism development conference have emphasized on delivering more interactive and communicative electronic services to gravitate online customers towards companies. Whether it is tourism products or services, users find online technologies very supportive in making decisions. Therefore, companies should concentrate on strategies to effectively communicate with the customers instead of suffering from stagnant user base. According to Dr. Usman Zafar, Board Advisor at ]init[ AG for Digital Communication, “More local companies are using online platforms, but they are not using technology to get value added services”.

Striking Up an Interactive Relationship with Online Consumers

Industry Head Travel – Gulf, Google, Marie de Ducla said: “In terms of technology adoption, customers in the Middle East are recognized as being sophisticated and technology savvy, which is evident in the high mobile and internet penetration rates. Hence, travel and tourism companies must prioritize their online marketing tools to advance their businesses and retain new customers”.

According to the experts at GCC e-tourism development conference, companies should create content that is conducive to consumer interaction all the more. Given the fact that globally Facebook is the most popular social media website among 77% of the users that make online registrations, Dr.Zafar said that companies should offer content that is exclusive to their Facebook pages so that consumers automatically draw to their pages. For instance, it would be a good start to let the consumers buy airfare tickets on companies’ Facebook pages.

Akvile Pareigyte, Digital Marketing Director at DM3, says that visual engagement can also help companies in getting the consumers to interact with the brand. Infographics are a great place to start with as the trend shows that consumers highly tend to share these with each other. Moreover, distribution strategy is as important as good content. Fine content would be of no use if it’s unapproachable. Pareigyte also said that companies should “tailor strategies to suit certain markets”. Given the fact that expats majorly inhabit the UAE, she stressed on companies’ need to create bilingual sites.

The Ripple Effect

Some of the companies that employed online strategies are already seeing positive results. Attracting over 4,000 participants, The Ajman Tourism Development Department has had a successful twitter campaign for the national day recently.

Moreover, a report by global travel market research firm, PhoCusWright, revealed that online bookings in the Middle East have grown by nearly a third this year. Online travel sales in the Middle East will grow to 31% from 2011 to almost $10.4bn this year, and are set to reach $15.8bn by 2014. In 2011, 39% of all online bookings in the Middle East were made through regional online travel agencies (OTAs), and the gross booking value via OTAs is set to nearly double from $3.1bn to $6bn by 2014.