Last month month Arabian Travel News hosted the first of what will hopefully be a series of roundtable debates with National Tourism Organisations (NTOs) based in the Middle East.
While each of the five countries at the table — Switzerland, Britain, Cyprus, Thailand and Korea — faces its own, very specific challenges in marketing their destinations in this region; there was one frustration commonly shared by all, and that is the general lack of clarity surrounding the outbound travel sector in this market.
NTOs all reported a complete unwillingness from travel companies to reveal any real data, statistics, or concrete information about the market, and complained about the sheer impossibility in setting realistic targets with the trade to grow business to their countries - because they simply have no idea how many people travel companies send there in the first place.
It's something I've become all too aware of in my endless attempts to probe the trade for information since editing this magazine. Statements like: "Travel to Europe will be 'up' this summer" or “Bookings are doing ‘well’ this year.” are all too common. Extracting any hard facts and figures is like trying to get blood out of a stone.
Vassilis Theocharides, director, Middle East, Cyprus Tourism Organisation explained: “There is no transparency with the figures. Even the biggest agencies here just say ‘we did well’ or ‘we are 'up' on last year.' Give me some statistics and some historical data. Our bosses need to know the figures!"
Carol Madisson, head of Visit Britain, UAE admitted to being baffled at the cloak of secrecy surrounding the outbound travel sector: “I don’t know why there is such a sensitivity around sharing figures here. Travel agents must know how many bookings they made to Britain in a month?”
Whatever the real reason — perhaps you fear being ‘outdone’ by your competitors; maybe you're not keeping track of what's going on in your business; or are you just panicked that the reality won't live up to the perception— this hazy approach isn't going down too well among NTOs seeking concrete reasons to justify their investments to cash-strapped head offices back home.
With so many markets competing for increasingly dwindling budgets, the travel trade needs to lay its cards on the table; or risk driving that investment into other — much more open arms.