Middle East online market set to grow: WiT

Movers and shakers of the Middle East online travel industry gathered at WiT Middle East 2019 in Dubai on April 9 to share their plans to unlock the potential of a fast-changing market being driven by youths – 60 per cent of consumers are Millennials and Gen Z, strong spending power and technology developments.

With the global online travel market valued at $638 billion in 2018, the Middle East currently accounts for a small share, said Mona Faraj, managing director of Insight Out Consultancy, presenting the Middle East Online Travel Report from Phocuswright. But that is set to grow, as mobile penetration increases, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia among the world’s top 10 online travel leaders and a young population leapfrogging desktop to embrace the immediacy of mobile, said Faraj.

The promise of the market has lured global online travel brands such as and Expedia, as well as brands that have grown up in similar emerging markets such as Africa, South-east Asia and India – all of whom gathered to speak at WiT Middle East, which fielded close to 40 speakers and attracted more than 200 delegates. 

Stephan Ekbergh, CEO of Travelstart, the Scandinavia and Africa-based OTA that is expanding in the Middle East, called the region the “golden goose” of travel. “It is exciting to be here at this time; so much is happening in the region, and it’s just early days.”

Ross Veitch, CEO and co-founder of Wego, said the South-East Asian based travel search brand entered the Middle East six years ago in search of a high growth market and its entry has paid off. On the back of the Middle East, the company, founded in 2005, has reached $1 billion in gross bookings and tipped over to profitability 18 months ago.

Stuart Crighton, CEO and founder of India-based Cleartrip, which entered the Middle East nine years ago and acquired Saudi Arabian OTA Flyin last year, said a customer transformation was underway in the region with consumers moving online, driven by the high mobile penetration and the growth of low-cost carriers. 

“Middle East online travel is getting exciting. The region is undergoing a shift to mobile from desktop for search and book, and we have already launched our best in class Mobile APP and PWA site to offer superior experience for our consumers.”

Among homegrown brands, all eyes are on Seera, which is reinventing itself with investments into the online travel sector. Muzzammil Ahussain, executive vice-president, said the group was investing into making Almosafer, a company it now fully owns after buying the remaining 60 per cent stake this year, the consumer-facing travel brand.

He said the group was keen on growing both organically and via acquisitions and had strong interest in the alternative accommodation sector, which is booming globally, as well as the tours and activities segment which has seen almost $400 million raised by startups in the last four years.