Inaugural Abu Dhabi Tourism and Data Analytics Forum Gathers Global Experts in UAE Capital to Discuss Innovation in the Industry

The inaugural Abu Dhabi Tourism and Data Analytics Forum, organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), concluded today following a packed schedule of keynote speeches, panel discussions and workshops. The event took place on 15 December at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Data Analytics Forum, the first ever such event in the region, gathered more than 100 leading experts from across the world in Abu Dhabi to discuss the latest trends in the tourism and analytics industry, with representatives from global tech giants Google in attendance as well as representatives from Skift, DCT Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Al Dar, ADNEC, TripAdvisor, Farah Experiences, EXPO 2020, Etihad Airways, Emirates Airlines, Rotana, Experience Hub, Anantara, Dnata, Hala Abu Dhabi, DarkMatter, Accor, Seera Group and STR.

HE Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary, DCT Abu Dhabi, who launched the event with a keynote speech, said: “This is the first ever Tourism and Data Analytics Forum in Abu Dhabi and we are excited to be launching such an innovative and forward-thinking event, an event which could have far-reaching implications for the tourism eco-system of the emirate. We are aware of the potential data and analytics has to be a game changer for the tourism sector, and we believe having this analytical capability is no longer a luxury but an actual necessity to advance our agenda and reach our ambitious goals for the emirate.”

“The event brings together top data scientists, researchers and industry experts to share the latest advances in tourism analytics and data analysis to support Abu Dhabi as it develops further into an innovative tourism capital and I am excited to see what comes out of this creative and collaborative conference.”

The event’s opening panel in Manarat Al Saadiyat’s Auditorium was ‘Abu Dhabi Hotel Inventory, Future Supply & Strategic Gaps?’ with a keynote speech by Ziad Ali Mohamed, Business Intelligence Director at DCT Abu Dhabi. The session discussed upcoming supply and inventory for the different zones in the emirate, and shed light on the strategic gaps in the pipeline; from category, type and offering. He said the critical challenge was to ensure data was complete and accurate so key decisions could be made, such as whether to reject or accept new hotel licences or alter room rates during peak periods. He also explained how analysis of data can help boost revenues by predicting the exact characteristics and nationalities of visitors during major events happening in the capital.

Following this, the panel session titled ‘F&B & Retail Analytics’ looked at the evolving science of analytics in both the food and retail industries to drive customer satisfaction.

Cyrille Fabre, Head of Consumer Products and Retail at Bain, said the retail market was changing fast, with many households squeezed by the need for time and convenience, while not being as rich or confident as before. He said the key consumer trends were value, convenience and e-commerce. In this region, two thirds of all retail growth is now e-commerce, but it’s still small at 5 – 6 percent of all retail sales. So online commerce will continue to see phenomenal growth, which all players in the retail industry must adapt to.

Prashant Joshi, Senior Vice President, Darkmatter, said the challenge for the F&B industry was to ensure the collected data was standardised across the whole sector. Currently, each region and country has different sets of data and means of collecting data, even for the same brand, which impacts all areas of business. He said customers in the millennial generation want personalised/customised bespoke treatment from businesses, and are prepared to share their data to get this.

The session entitled ‘Predictive Analytics in Abu Dhabi Hotel Markets’, was moderated by Dr Mohammed K. Al Dhaheri, with panel members detailing the methods that their data analysis companies were using to enhance profitability and service in the hotel industry.

Olivier Jager, CEO & Co-founder of Forwardkeys, said the challenge was to provide customers with the data but also explain the best ways to utilise it.  Philip Wooler, Area Director MEA of STR, explained that his company works alongside hotels to offer them data on how their competition is performing, giving them the tools to make business and pricing decisions. He also praised DCT Abu Dhabi’s innovative use of data in its business models. Amr El Nady, Head of Hotels & Hospitality for MENA at JLL, said in Abu Dhabi there had been an incredible shift in how hotels utilise data for supply and demand uses, but there are still additional ways to use this data to improve their revenues. He said the hotel industry in Abu Dhabi was a development-driven market – compared to an acquisition-driven model in the West – meaning investors need accurate information about the risks of building new hotels, which data analysis is crucial for.

In a panel titled ‘DMC Data: Pricing Dynamics of Online Bookings’, the panellists gave an insight into the developments in pricing of packages and online booking behaviour.

Albert Dias, Co-founder of Musafir Business, said the online booking trend presents a great opportunity for the business travel industry. He said the industry is moving from wars over price, to wars over value proposition, which is especially relevant in business travel, which is founded on data and insights.

Justin Reid, Director of Europe & MEA at TripAdvisor, noted that his company is almost 20 years old with almost 1 billion reviews posted. While not all reviews are accurate he believes in the “wisdom of the crowd”, giving customers an insight into the destinations. He said all reviews go through 37 forms of identification to ensure accuracy, which is helping to eliminate fraudulent reviews. He explained how TripAdvisor is working with Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry to provide it with accurate and useful data. Overall, the destination was highly rated globally, with visitors being very positive about their visits to Abu Dhabi, especially the accommodation.

In his keynote speech, ‘Growth in the Travel Industry’Hany Abdelkawi, Head of Travel at Google, discussed the evolving trends in the consumer journey, as well as the psychographic changes in travellers who are continually connected online, and how to attract them. He covered three important pillars, namely: embracing data as a foundation; delivering relevance with machine learning; and aligning on shared business outcomes. He also discussed Google’s cooperation with DCT Abu Dhabi to improve the offerings on its www.visitabudhabi.ae website, as well as the impact that Artificial Intelligence will have on the travel industry.

The panel session the ‘Role of Analytics in Hospitality Industry’ looked into how data analytics can improve revenues, monitor costs and monitor performance.

Philip Wooller, discussed the importance of analysing the quality of data and information to really understand trends within a market. He also covered the opportunities that Dubai Expo 2020 will present for Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

Guiliano Gasparini, Senior VP at Aldar, said data analysis was essential in that it indicates present performance compared to that of the past, it allows comparison against peers, while also offering forecasts for the future, which is most important as it meant comparing business on the books with that of competitors.

Jose Pablo Redondo, Head of Big Monetisation at du, then presented a speech titled ‘Visitor Journey and Profiling Using Telecom Data’, which looked at how du and other UAE telecom companies are showcasing their capabilities onto Abu Dhabi visitors’ journeys. He discussed the methods his team is using to ensure customers’ privacy while also using location data to analyse the profile, behaviour and interests of visitors.

In a session entitled ‘Unlocking Transformation: Building the Future of Travel through Data at Scale’, Ian Di Tullio, Global SVP Guest Services at Accor, looked at the how data analysis is augmenting hotel loyalty programmes, which can then be used to enhance customer service. He said data analysis provides the capacity to identify customers over numerous touchpoints, and then create relevant experiences for them outside the hotel.

In a speech titled ‘Let the Customer Speak’Wouter Geerts, Senior Research Analyst at Skift, examined the research showing how some customers are willing to share data if they get a better, more personalised service in return, while others are worried about violation of their privacy.

He then moderated a panel discussion titled ‘Why Data Transparency and Trust are Key to Customer Experience’. Here, Louise Blake, VP of Data at Seera Group, discussed how data analysis is being utilised in Saudi Arabia’s nascent travel industry, and how this is shared with tourism boards and airlines to improve services; while Matthew Webb, Global OTA Customer Data & Analytics at Travelport, looked at the personal customer data the tourism industry requires to give travellers unique and engaged activities, which will in turn improve brand loyalty and longevity.

In a speech titled ‘Aspiration vs Reality of the Future of Travel’Rafat Ali, the Founder and CEO of Skift, predicted the upcoming megatrends in the travel industry would be inspiration, personalisation and a path towards self-discovery, which will give travellers the illusion of control. Subscription travel, similar to music subscription or Direct to Consumer (D2C) services, could be the future of the industry.

Carolyn Kremins, President of Skift, discussed the ‘Global Trends in the Travel Market’, stating that while the tourism industry is booming, there may be headwinds to come, whether that is Brexit in Europe or the US-China trade war. She stated that in travel, personal fulfillment is the new luxury, with transformational travel being a key trend.

Sean O’Neill, Travel Tech Editor, Skift, said people are increasingly booking their sightseeing and attractions online before they come to a destination. He recommended that tourism authorities study data from activities and attractions at their destination to gain insights.

Faisal Ameer Malik, Chief Technology Officer at Huawei Technologies, gave the last speech of the Forum in the Auditorium, titled ‘Huawei: Driving Transformation to the Intelligent World’. He discussed the latest ICT industry trends, the ways AI will transform the tourism industry, and how Huawei’s research is impacting a variety of industries and sectors, both through its mobile phones and other technological advances.

In parallel with the lectures in the Auditorium, Manarat Al Saadiyat’s Theatre hosted several workshops and presentations, with the first session presented by John Paterson, Head of Enterprise Analytics for Etihad Airways, who talked about ‘The Evolution of Customer Segmentation’. As part of his session, he discussed Etihad’s growth since 2003, its key milestones, and its evolution using Advanced Customer Segmentation. He discussed how more refined methods of customer segmentation allow for more optimised customer experiences, and also more effective campaign marketing.

Following this session, Scott Livermore, the Managing Director and Chief Economist from Oxford Economics Middle East, gave a technical workshop on ‘Economic Modelling and Forecasting Methods’. As part of the presentation, Livermore discussed forecasting frameworks, the benefits of models for forecasts and analysis, macroeconomic drivers and outbound travel demand, Abu Dhabi’s growing market share and the outlook for the future.

Concluding the morning sessions, Ghana Mahanty, Senior Director and Head of Data Science on MENA and SSA from Visa, gave a session entitled ‘Visa Purchasing Power and Journey of Abu Dhabi-bound Tourists’. During the session he discussed the UAE inbound landscape, Abu Dhabi’s position and the emirate’s inbound ‘corridors’, spend potentials, payment behaviours and customer mix, based on Visa’s Proprietory Algorithm. He also discussed how understanding the customer journey through use of data could empower users to refine targeted marketing, and incentivise spending.

The afternoon sessions began with a session entitled ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Destination Experience Through Digital Transformation’, which was given by Mamoun Faisal, Director of Information Technology at Farah Experiences. In the session, he discussed the introduction of the Yas Connect system, insights into customer journeys, how digital transformation is linked to transforming the customer experience, and the drive for integration of the digital and physical spaces.

Then, Khaled Abou Nader, Chief Product Officer from Publicis Media, presented a session entitled ‘The Internet of Things’, where he discussed the development of the Internet of Things, the upcoming introduction of 5G technology, Beacon technology and its applications on the tourism sector, and Smart Cities of the future.

Sumathi Ramanthan, Director of Destination Marketing at Expo 2020, then presented a session entitled ‘Visitors Forecast Methodology and Impact to Abu Dhabi’, where she discussed the expected Expo2020 visitation numbers, priority, growth and frontier markets, consumer segmentation, historic and successful Expos, and the collaborations and expected impact of the event on the UAE capital.

Rounding off the afternoon sessions in the Theatre, Nilotpal Kanti Sinha, Senior Data Scientist at DCT Abu Dhabi, presented a workshop entitled ‘Hospitality Demand Forecasting in the GCC Region’, where he discussed hotel occupancy modelling, the challenges of forecasting using both the western and the Islamic calendars, the aim of refining forecasting models to strive for even greater granular accuracy, and using forecasting algorithms for specific events in any destination’s calendar.

For further information about the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Data Analytics Forum, please visit https://adtdaf.com/

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