The winds of change in the aviation market have been blowing for a long time and have gradually changed the climate for incentive travel. The recent announcement that Dubai International is now the world’s second busiest international airport, and will overtake Heathrow by 2015, is a significant shift away from the old order and will have equally significant implications for the longer-term evolution of the incentive travel market.
Where ‘first world’ airlines and airports have struggled with increasing costs, aging infrastructure and fleets, and volatile passenger markets driven largely by years of weak economic conditions, the Middle East has boomed. The billions poured into Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha airports and fleet investment from the likes of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways has positioned the Middle East as a more viable incentive and conference destination, but, more importantly, has opened up a large number of incentive travel opportunities to destinations that were previously the domain of the more intrepid or adventurous incentive group travel event organiser.
Customer Experience Makes or Breaks Events
Infrastructure and access is one thing, but experience is the all important ingredient for the high-end corporate group travel delegate. Aside from the benefits modern fleets and dedicated terminals and transit facilities provide, the carriers have invested heavily in the ‘softer’ aspects of their businesses, ensuring the customer experience is world class and world leading. There are lessons to be learned by many first world carriers I’m sure. For example Emirates simple philosophy of ‘exceed customer expectations’ runs right through the business, includes baggage handlers understanding that luggage is not just luggage, and recently had $70m spent on customer centred projects.
Whilst the drivers behind this growth are interesting – primarily oil price rises and the movement of construction workers across the region – it is the consequences for international conference and incentive travel that are most profound.
Greater Choice & Competition for Conference & Incentive Travel
The number of routes now served from the Middle East, and the more than impressive customer experience, means destinations that were previously out of reach, for reasons of travel time, poor experience (flight or ground), are now a reality. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are directly accessible from scores of European centres, and now provide world class connections on to Indian, Indian Ocean, African and Far Eastern destinations. Incentive events to previously inaccessible destinations are now a reality. Gone are the days when getting to these destinations was an odd blend of first class flight out of Europe and then a connection on an aged Russian rust bucket of a plane from an airport that could never be described as world class. The aviation winds of change mean the choice and opportunity for the incentive travel going east has never been greater, of a better quality or more exciting.