09 May 2009

ATM and Dubai – A Perspective

I did say I would try and avoid doom and gloom stories- but I think that this is a story that should be told.

This week the Professor was in Dubai during Arabian Travel Mart. I use the opportunity to both catch up with clients, friends and even people who don’t fall into either of these categories. The marketplace is very subdued. There are grim faces everywhere. Rumours are flying of the doom and gloom variety. I can attest to several first hand observations of the depth of the collapse in Dubai. I do not use that word lightly. While there are some positive signs from Emirates of stable passenger numbers, EK is not immune from the same pressures that Legacy carriers such as BA and Delta are experiencing. The International Herald Tribune had an article May 8th 2009 on the impact of the biz travel downturn on SQ, BA and others. It is clearly a state of affairs that has astounded everyone by the depth and breadth of the reductions.

The ATM show itself was down in exhibitor volume. The halls that handled the property groups were actually closed. Throughout the show there were empty stand positions, something I do not recall from prior shows. I attended all 3 days and on no day did the attendance look anything like prior years. It was frankly very quiet, I had meetings at the coffee shop in the center of the halls and I could observe the traffic on both entrances – there was no rushing, no bunching . I am sure numbers must be down at least 20% probably a lot more. The building program exacerbated the problems of taxis and I am sure that this upset and frustrated many a show goer. I went out of my way to talk to hoteliers to get their perspectives. I was so taken aback by their war stories. Typical responses: “ we don’t know when we will be back to above 40% occupancy” and “I doubt we are even covering our opex let alone debt coverage.”

One night I went with some colleagues to the new Atlantis resort at the end of the first completed Palm. To say that it was quiet would be like saying a mortuary was a busy place. Rates are down universally. I spoke to several people who gave me first hand stories of deals they had received. Even the top hotels like the Jumeriah properties, The Fairmont and the Grand Hyatt all had evidence of heavy discounting.

The exodus of the expat community is also significant. While no hard numbers exist – I was again quite taken aback by the number of people I knew personally who had left or were leaving.

It is going to take a long time for normality to return. By normality – I mean reasonable yield and occupancy levels. Clearly Dubai has to do a lot to remarket itself and lower its costs. The Saudi traveler who is the most coveted customer these days has so many choices elsewhere that he needs to be courted and sold to rather than held at arms length.

New skills like selling rather than order taking will need to be learned.


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