x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Agents hit hard as travellers decide to 'wait and see'

Travel agents are experiencing declines of up to 40 per cent in sales for the Middle East because of impact of unrest.

Travel agents in the UAE are suffering declines of up to 40 per cent in regional sales as tourists and business travellers avoid visiting countries affected by unrest.

"There have been losses," said Prakash Jayaraman, the manager of Al Abbas Travels in Dubai. "If we compare it to last year around the same time we could definitely say there is a 35 to 40 per cent drop in sales [for business travel in the Middle East].

"The traffic has come down a lot now because of the problems in Bahrain and all these places. There's a lot of 'wait and see' attitude by the business travellers."

In recent years travel agents worldwide have had their profits squeezed by factors including consumers booking online, zero commission policies and the economic downturn.

"People are not willing to travel to destinations such as Egypt, Bahrain and Libya," one Dubai travel agent said. "They are afraid. We are not getting queries for the season."

Increases in oil prices were also not helping, as these resulted in more expensive airfares, Mr Jayaraman said.

"At the end of the day it is going to hit the budget of the tourist," he said. "With all the inflation going on, the budget that they have for their holidays will definitely be reduced. If the prices increase they will think twice.

"The summer is definitely going to be down compared to last year, unless some drastic measure is taken by the tourism boards of the different countries and the airlines put on some special fares."

He said holidaymakers were opting for the Far East and Europe as they avoided regional travel.

However, other agents less dependent on Middle East travel said they had seen little impact on their revenues.

"When we do this region it's primarily Egypt and Jordan," said Sheldon Emmanuel at Al Tayer Holidays. "Those packages [are generally cheap], so if you do all the percentages and margins, it's just a small chink in the armour.

"The few packages that we've done for people going to Jordan and Egypt, we've advised them beforehand to check with their consulates or embassies, and in most cases they got a travel advisory against going. This year the bulk of the people are going to Europe, the US and the Far East."

In the UK, Thomas Cook has estimated the impact of the unrest on its second-quarter earnings will be about £20 million (Dh119.5m). Travel restrictions to Egypt and Tunisia resulted in the group suffering about 150,000 cancellations.

One agent in the Emirates said his company had benefited to some extent by selling air tickets to travellers being evacuated from Bahrain last month.