Saudi travelers returning to America

Saudi travelers returning to America
Updated 07 July 2015

Saudi travelers returning to America

Saudi travelers returning to America

ORLANDO, Florida: More than 6,500 delegates from 73 countries, including over 1,300 international and domestic travel buyers and 500 media from the US and abroad, attended the US Travel Association’s 47th annual IPW, the travel industry’s premier international marketplace.
The event, the largest single generator of travel to the US, convened in Orlando, Florida earlier this month.
The Saudi delegation was more strongly represented than in recent years, with travel experts attending from around the Kingdom; while the US Consulate General in Jeddah sent their Travel and Tourism Specialist from the Commercial Service, Mai AbuDabat.
Travel from Saudi Arabia to the US has increased greatly since May 2015 when the US started facilitating visas for the Saudi market by issuing US business visitors five-year, multiple-entry visas, said Yasser Rafaat, events and groups manager for the Jeddah-based Attar Travels.
“Facilitating visa issues for the Saudi market has been a huge help for us,” Rifaat said. The US will see the positive impact of this in the next few years.
“Saudi nationals spend a lot of money when they travel, and are the biggest travelers to the US in the region.”
AbuDabat, commercial specialist, told Arab News: “Saudis’ attitudes to travel to the US are positive.”
AbuDabat added: “Many generations of Saudi nationals have a history here, especially with the King Abdullah Scholarship program, the KASP program, which is US-centric; 55 percent of Saudi students travel to US universities, and the rest go to the UK or Australia. We find that since so many Saudi students come to the US this results in generation after generation of Saudis who feel an affinity for the US.”
A first timer to IPW, Shehazad Ahmed, manager for Leisure and MICE (an acronym for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) for the Al Khobar-based ITL World, came “looking for new products, like Legoland, for our market.”
At IPW, he said that he found other “unique products” for his clients, such as Amtrak vacations “which is good, as we currently are handling Eurail trips in Europe.”
These fortuitous meetings are part of IPW’s success.
Over the course of three days, nearly 100,000 pre-scheduled business meetings took place between travel buyers and US travel organizations.
Aslam Pasha, general manager for the AlKhobar-based Almajdouie Travels, said he had a very positive experience, noting that “IPW is purely business, it is not a social gathering.”
To configure so many business meetings between so many people, IPW runs the 3-day convention like clockwork.
“I really admired the professionalism in managing the show,” said Pasha.
“Everything is well-run and tightly run. Here you learn how to manage time. Anyone who wants to succeed needs to learn how to value time. Here everything is perfectly organized: transportation, hotels, food, even the hotels selected to host the attendees.”
When asked how many of their meetings with American suppliers were positive in the sense that they felt it would lead to future business deals, they all said that they felt that between 50 percent to 70 percent of their meetings at IPW would lead to further business opportunities for them here.
The Saudi team did say there was some room for improvement.
“The negative we noticed here is that managers of IPW never talk about Middle East clients,” said Rafaat, who has been in the travel industry for over 23 years.
“They talk about Japan, Brazil, China and the UK but never mention us.”
This is unfortunate, as according to IPW President Roger Dow, Middle East tourists traveling to the US number 243,000 and spend $618 million annually.
Nonetheless, Ahmed appreciated what IPW did offer.
“The IPW show is very disciplined and the arrangements are good, and the meetings are serious and constructive.”
This is what IPW does best: bringing together travel professionals from every corner of the US, including representatives of hotels, destinations, attractions, museums, amusement parks and other travel businesses.
These professionals market themselves to the world’s top international tours operators and wholesalers that sell travel to the US.
Pasha praised the daily activities at IPW, including lunches, which he said “are fun and yet always focused on business outcomes.”
Pasha said: “A good example of how well-organized they are is that even the lunches are very energizing — which makes it easy to continue doing business after lunch, as opposed to Saudi Arabia.”
The lunch entertainment here is re-energizing, which is important, as we work so hard here, said Pasha.
“Business deals are easily made on the floor here.”
AbuDabat’s presence was useful working with the Saudi tourism authorities who attended IPW.
“Saudi companies can work through the US Dept of Commerce,” she explained.
“We link US suppliers with Saudi buyers, which creates more business for US companies. My role is to link Saudi buyers with US suppliers. We coordinate the introduction, and have offices all over the US.”
AbuDabat said: “So, if Yasser [Rafaat, Attar Travel] informs me that he wants to organize children’s trips to summer camps in the US, I send a mass e-mail to all our tourism teams in the US and explain the request. Then they reply with what they have to offer. We do this across many industries, not only travel.”
AbuDabat said: “We will try to increase Saudi delegates from 5 to 8 or 12. We’re the biggest market in the Middle East by demographics and income. Now that the visa entry process has improved, there’s very good working relationship between the two countries.”
IPW-initiated travel is expected to bring 8.8 million international visitors to the US, an independent firm, Rockport Analytics, recently published.
Overseas travelers will earn the $28 billion in total spending, and $4.7 billion in direct bookings to US destinations over the next three years.