James Wrenn James Wrenn

Millennials are changing the way travel has been perceived and looked at over the years. These travellers, with their strong sense of civic responsibility, believe travel is not just a reason to get away from regular life, but a way of learning from life. Ecotourism, adventure tourism and wellness tourism offer a variety of things that this segment wants to engage in while travelling and experiencing the world.

Recent studies have found that the number of travellers who prefer and are willing to engage in environmentally-friendly travel or ecotourism holidays globally has increased enormously in the last decade. The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts there will be some 1.6 billion eco-inspired trips taken by 2020.

Catering for new-age travellers and meeting their expectations will be the next major focus and challenge for the travel and tourism sector. Since this demographic has a completely different way of looking at travel, it is important for the travel industry to develop differentiated products that can cater to their needs. While such elements of “fun” and “frolic” are important to them, they also require activities that will fulfil their sense of civic responsibility; a way to give back to nature and be sensible while using the resources.

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Millennials in the Middle East

So, what is available for a millennial in the Middle East’s tourism and hospitality sector?

Governments in GCC are increasingly taking more efforts to develop ecotourism, keeping in mind its potential contribution to the region. Currently, the GCC ecotourism market is mainly focused on nature and wildlife tourism. The region is rich in bio-diversity; countries like the UAE have more than 43 natural reserves and Oman has an abundance of wadis, mountains and reserves, offering varied choices to the travellers in the region. Several hospitality products have been developed to tap into this market over the years, especially in the UAE and Oman.

Destinations such as Ras Al Khaimah and Hatta in the UAE, and Jebel Akhar, Ras Al Hadd, Musandam and Sur in Oman are increasingly focusing on reaching out to this type of tourism. Hatta, for example, offers its adventure-and-activity-seeking visitors a wide range of experiences including an adventure centre, mountain and caravan lodges, a first-of-its-kind trailer luxury hotel, trekking options, and camping spots.

The UAE government also recently launched an app called “Eco tourism UAE” that provides images and videos covering a distance of 2,700km on land, air and underwater, along with information on reserves in Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, to specifically target the “next-gen” travellers. New giga projects in KSA such as The Red Sea Project, Amaala and NEOM feature elements to create tourism opportunities based on the bio-diversity of the Kingdom.

It is important for hoteliers and the wider tourism industry in the region to understand that millennials believe and demand sustainable travel options and they buy into socially conscious brands. Going green and developing more eco-friendly accommodation types and resorts that offer a range of activities for guests from hiking and trekking to cooking and farming (and not just the already successful luxury wellness desert resort concept) could be the next opportunity for developers in the region.

James Wrenn is senior manager, Hotels MENA Region for Colliers International, based in Dubai. He will be speaking on the topic ‘Wellness, eco, agri and adventure tourism for the avocado generation’ at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference 2019, being held in Ras Al Khaimah from 9-11 April. Visit colliers.com and arabianconference.com for details.