The method by which travellers in the United Arab Emirates purchase their flights and hotel nights is changing rapidly according to a pilot study of 50,000 users of travel comparison site, Wego. With growing confidence in ecommerce sites and the safety of web-based transactions, a critical mass of travellers are now searching for options online, resulting in a growing number booking with Wego partner sites.
Similar to the early adoption of travel sites in Asia, Wego is seeing travellers in the United Arab Emirates taking control of their own itineraries, realising the savings made possible by using metasearch technology. It’s a pattern recognised by the leading travel metasearch site in Asia/Pacific and promises a revolution in online travel search.
Global site wego.com has been used by GCC travellers for some time, but acting on trending data, the company launched a dedicated United Arab Emirates site, wego.ae, in both Arabic and English earlier this year. The result has been a dramatic rise in traffic and transactions.
Wego CEO and Co-Founder, Ross Veitch explained: “We saw expatriates using wego.com first, both for business and leisure travel. We then tracked foreign workers searching for the cheapest flights back to their home countries. Now, wego.ae is live in Arabic we have noticed a surge in local hotel searches and interest in a much wider mix of international flights and accommodation, now to over 600 destinations. The site is working as intended, to help local residents save time and pay less.”
Searches by local users for flights from Abu Dhabi have increased 120 per cent year-on-year and from Dubai by 106 per cent. Flight searches to neighbouring Qatar have doubled and to Saudi Arabia risen by 76 per cent, with Jeddah topping the list.
Residents are also looking at more accommodation, with hotel searches up 121 per cent year-on-year. Singapore, Manila and Bangkok along with the best of Asia’s leisure destinations continue to score highly for hotels, but the focus is now much more local. One in every eight searches for Dubai and Abu Dhabi accommodation are made by people who live there. Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Al Ain are also being more regularly and thoroughly checked online.
Top 20 Destinations by Percentage Share of Searches on www.wego.ae, April 2012.
Wego credits the proprietary algorithm that ranks the properties according to their popularity with local users for the growing use of the hotel search function, serving as a measure of perceived quality alongside the hotel reviews. The rankings are dynamic, adjusting constantly with users’ choices to reflect the sentiment nationally.
To illustrate, the top ranked Dubai hotel for residents using wego.ae is the Shangri-La Hotel Dubai. The popular rankings for Dubai from the many other Wego sites, however, produce very different results. For Australians and Americans, the favourite right now is the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, but for Malaysians it is The Address Downtown. Singaporeans are looking more at the Ibis Al Rigga. It is all about the local perspective.
For Wego, the aim is for each of its sites to work for users in a natural way and early indications are that wego.ae is achieving this goal. The volume of traffic and the nature of it are also very positive indicators that online travel shopping in the United Arab Emirates is reaching a threshold.
Middle East Representative for Wego, Mohamad Masri at BizGate commented “ Arab travellers are becoming more internet savvy. Wego is building the momentum now and as more travellers share their experiences of shopping online, so this form of ecommerce will become mainstream.”
Veitch is confident that traffic to wego.ae will triple again before the end of this year as the vertical rapidly expands.