How destination marketers can capitalise on the Middle East buzz – by Sojern’s Stewart Smith

By Stewart Smith, Managing director Middle East and Africa at Sojern

There is a travel spotlight on the Middle East. The region currently leads the world in travel recovery for the fourth quarter of 2022 – and that uptick in travel is primarily due to the biggest football tournament in the world.

The event reportedly drew over 1.4 million visitors to the host country Qatar. From the beginning of 2022, it even boosted travel to other GCC countries with bookings from the Middle East up 20,000 per cent, the United States up 3,000 per cent and Europe up 2,000 per cent, according to data we pulled ahead of the tournament.

However, the tournament is now over and visitors have returned home. While it’s easy to assume the ‘slow season’ is here, the truth is GCC countries can ride the football wave and continue to woo global travellers. By leveraging the renewed interest in the Middle East – and not just ever-popular Dubai – destination marketers can piggyback off current travel intent and deploy digital marketing campaigns that entice travellers to book in 2023 and beyond.

Use real-time insights to pique traveller-interest

Real-time insights can help marketers to understand and capitalise on the current interest from travellers and entice them to book. Qatar flight bookings from the Middle East went up nearly 6,000 per cent during the football tournament compared to bookings in January 2022. The UAE was the top feeder market to Qatar accounting for 17 per cent of all bookings during the tournament. Bookings from APAC to GCC countries are up by over 17,000 per cent from the beginning of the year, matching European bookings. While these tourists certainly enjoyed the football matches, visitors are also showing interest in Islam and Arab culture. Destination marketers can use this information to deploy targeted, full-funnel and multichannel campaigns to raise awareness and invite travellers for a cultural experience only this region offers.

Work smart to beat seasonal swings

Seasonality is a hurdle every destination marketer faces but it only really exists when it comes to arrivals. People travel even during the low season. While instinctually, marketers may want to decrease spend during off-peak times, it’s important to take an always-on approach. The key to year-round success is staying abreast of traveller preferences and the latest behavioural insights. Using a mix of real-time and historical data from both on and offline channels, destination marketers can stitch together traveller profiles and the path to purchase to create targeted marketing strategies that raise awareness regardless of the season. Then, by using their first-party data in conjunction with marketing partner data, they can support annual media planning so destinations can reach the right audiences with the right messages all year long. From seasonality to budget allocations, the right partners can help destination marketers deploy campaigns and tactical promotions to inspire travellers to book a trip next week or next year.

The Abu Dhabi co-op’s successful collaborative campaign

Regional destination marketing organisations could take cues from the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT), Abu Dhabi, who work to drive sustainable growth within the tourism sector by attracting visitors from around the world. After two long years of travel restrictions, the DCT Abu Dhabi wanted to increase demand and direct bookings to properties located within Abu Dhabi using Sojern’s co-op marketing program. The program is designed to combine resources with hospitality partners to reach customers with multichannel digital advertising strategies using video, display, native, Facebook and Instagram with the latest 2022 campaign honing in on digital display advertising. 64 Abu Dhabi hotel properties activated this co-op marketing campaign, which resulted in a 1.76x ROI, $3m revenue, a reach of 3.2 million people and more than 8,000 room nights booked in a single quarter.

Middle East destination marketers have an incredible opportunity to capitalise on the football fever as well as increase awareness and demand for other regional destinations. This year’s tournament may be over, but now is the time to kick off the travel legacy.