Travel agency associations from the Gulf signed an agreement Tuesday to form a joint lobby group with its headquarters in Abu Dhabi, to promote and protect their interests as the region expands its tourism industries. Representatives from Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait and Sharjah have joined the newly formed Gulf Travel Association, which will be headed by the Abu Dhabi Travel and Tourism Association (ATTAC).
Hani Khorsheed, the secretary general of ATTAC, said the Dubai Travel and Tour Agents Group was expected to sign up within the next two weeks, while Ras al Khaimah and Oman would also join the association. Sofyan Almoayed, the chairman of the Association of Bahrain Travel and Tour Agents, said: "The 'cartel' will allow us to protect the interests of travel agents around the Gulf and create one entity, which will strengthen our relationships not only with the airlines but with each other."
In the past decade, all countries in the GCC have adopted strategies to grow their tourism industries as a means of economic diversification. Abu Dhabi is aiming to attract 2.3 million hotel guests by 2012, up from 1.5 million guests last year. Last month the capital lowered its forecast from 2.7 million guests by 2012, citing the global economic slowdown. Dubai's tourism sector, meanwhile, already directly contributes towards 19 per cent of the emirate's GDP and indirectly contributes 32 per cent. Dubai is seeking to attract 15 million visitors a year by 2015.
Mr Almoayed said the association would now "be able to find ways to tackle the global economic slowdown". Nasser bin Youssuf, the chairman of ATTAC and the Gulf Travel Association, said: "This is a new era in tourism and travel in the region. It will help us co-ordinate standards and upgrade services. Most importantly, it will improve transparency in the industry among Gulf countries." Premjit Bangara, the travel manager of Sharaf Travel in Dubai, welcomed the lobby group's formation. "We are at a time now when commissions are down. Airlines are reducing prices and earnings are down. When you have a strong lobbying group, you have that much more muscle to speak to airlines and hotel representatives all over the place," Mr Bangara said.
He said company revenues fell by between 15 and 17 per cent in the first five months of the year compared with same time last year as a result of the financial crisis, while short-notice fare reductions by airlines prevented travel agencies from planning their budgets. "You need to be regulated because you don't have any consistency in pricing, service levels have dropped, and because airlines are coming out with so many new fares and reducing fares," he said.