x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Facebook steps into the travel sector and 'likes' the Gulf and Middle East

The social media giant says it is seeing an increasing number of people using Facebook accounts to make travel plans.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the company's headquarters. The social media giant is eyeing the Gulf travel market. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the company's headquarters. The social media giant is eyeing the Gulf travel market. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Facebook, which launched its travel department October last year, is eyeing the Arabian Gulf region as it focuses on mobile applications for the travel sector.

The social media giant says it is seeing an increasing number of people using Facebook accounts to make travel plans.

Asia Pacific and Latin America are its up-coming markets for travel-related growth, said the head of the travel sector at Facebook.

"We are now a mobile first company and Middle East and Gulf have huge potential because smart phone penetration has superseded desktop penetration [here]," said Lee McCabe, head of travel at Facebook.

Device such as smartphones and ipads would drive the future of the travel industry, whether it is Google Glass or Siri, Apple's voice-enabled personal assistant, said Jenna Qian, a spokeswoman for Qunar, a Chinese travel website.

Qunar, which started its mobile business in 2010, generates 73 million monthly visits and has 235,700 hotels on its platform.

Facebook sees huge potential in the market.

"They are booking and deciding on hotel stays and destinations based on family and friends' reviews," said Facebook's Mr McCabe.

"The five stages of travel: dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing and reflecting are [taking place] more and more on Facebook," he said.

The mobile applications that Facebook is ramping up in this sector include Facebook Nearby - a mobile application, which enables users to locate the hotels, restaurants and other businesses their friends have reviewed and visited.

Much like Google+ Local, Yelp and Foursquare, the application aims to tap into the 500 million mobile phone users of Facebook. The app, however, does not feature reviews as on other online platforms.

His department comprises 50 people in engineering, marketing and sales, a majority of whom are based in California.

Travel agents and tourism boards, such as Tourism Australia, were among the first to log into Facebook's potential to generate customers.

People used to use wisdom of the crowd, and now they are using the wisdom of friends, Mr McCabe said of Facebook Nearby.

SSahoo@thenational.ae