Digital & The Future Of Dubai’s Hospitality Industry — We Are Like Luqaimat And Honey

Luqaimat and honey

It is a popular belief that Dubai’s revenues are primarily oil-based, which exacerbates the current, gloomy outlook for the country widely held externally and propagated by global media. In reality, Dubai has only used a moderate amount of its oil reserves to generate economic streams such as trade, manufacturing and tourism. What’s more, Dubai is now a regional and global hub for professional services like finance, IT, advertising and social media. Despite the current downward cycle, the government continues to develop mid-to-long term initiatives to ensure that Dubai remains attractive to business and leisure travellers, at the same time creating an enviable residential environment for both Emiratis and expats.

While there is plenty of material to read and absorb with regards to Dubai’s diversified economy and growing population, it is difficult to create a synergistic view of the city’s mid-to-long term future. I’ve recently attended several closed events hosted by key leaders in the hospitality industry to discuss how digital and communications will play a long term

There was general agreement that a smart digtial strategy is essential to differentiate travel brands, so I’ve collected here some of the most important digital media takeaways from these events and access to some key industry influencers.

1. Don’t sell rooms. Sell experiences.

Accommodations alone aren’t enough to sway today’s traveller, who wants to experience not only what your hotel has to offer, but also the restaurants, bars and shops in the surrounding area. Digitally, this means sharing not only images of your beds, beaches and ballrooms, but also trips guests can take while they are staying with you. For a great example of this check out Air BnB’s “Live There” experience. It’s an innovative matching system designed to understand travelers’ preferences and then match them with the homes, neighborhoods and experiences that meet their needs. A new Guidebooks feature will unlock local insights, giving travelers access to millions of insider tips from Airbnb’s global community of hosts.

Air BnB’s New Mobile “LIve There” Experience App

2. The microsite is maturing.

Hospitality brands need to inspire consumers in order to drive bookings, which means creating unique, immersive experiences at each stage of the journey. In this incredibly competitive space, content-rich microsites are making it easier to connect with consumers on a human level.

Conrad Hotels & Resorts is a great example of this with its “Stay Inspired” microsite. The site’s tagline is “Conrad 1/3/5.”, which translates into a curated list of quintessential local experiences in top cities based on whether visitors have one, three or five hours available. It’s brimming with best practices that any brand can apply to create a streamlined and entertaining microsite — see Dubai at

The Four Seasons microsite “Four Seasons Magazine,” the brand has a page for each city in which it has a presence. The graphics and layout are designed to appeal to an upscale audience, there’s a nice mix of practical tips and hotel highlights, and the personalized content is expressed as recommendations from the concierge for foodies, adventurers, spa-goers, and business travelers. There’s a good example at

Jumeirah recently entered into a collaboration with Google to give travelers from all over the world a chance to explore virtually the famous 7 star Burj Al Arab hotel and 20 other properties in the brand’s portfolio. The result, ‘Jumeirah Inside’, is the travel industry’s first fully immersive, integrated discovery and booking platform, gathering together the previously disjointed processes of inspiring and converting visitors into a single, beautiful website. The platform is optimized for mobile devices, offers content in five major languages, and has received over 10 million views on Jumeirah’s YouTube channel, as well as an ad recall of 95%.

3. EDITORIAL content is KING

Traditional hotel photography — think crisp white sheets, overwrought room service, sterile lobby shots — simply doesn’t have the same digital impact as editorial-style content. Whether you tell your brand story with regular, comic, or 360 videos, and whether you show them on Facebook, YouTube, or your own channels, you need to a desirable moment. How do you do that? Start by talking to content gurus who understand how each channel works (they are all very different). Then talk to your guests, past and present. Marketing managers at individual properties. Influencers in the hospitality business. There is a wealth of raw material out there just waiting for you to shape it into compelling content.

For example check out British Airways Caribbean escape:

A beautiful video which really catapults you there — not sure about you guys but I can actually see myself THERE watching this.

4. Influencer marketing is incredibly important

According to the ‘Thomsan Media Study’, businesses that invest in influencer marketing are are getting a 650% return — 63% of people between the ages of 13–24 say they would try a product or brand recommended by a YouTube personality.

On June 1st 2014, Beautiful Destinations invited its followers to post photos of their favourite ‘Beautiful Destination’ with the hashtag #worldsULTIMATEinstameet. Each day from 8–12th June, five images were selected and reposted on the Burj Al Arab’s Instagram account, and the image with the most likes over 24 hours won its owner an invitation to the Instameet. Influencers were selected by the relevance of their content, their location and composition of their following.

The Burj Al Arab created a once-in-a-lifetime experience: guests were picked up in a Rolls Royce Phantom and delivered to the hotel where they spent three nights in an exquisite suite, with their own personal butler and all the food and drink they could handle. Activities included a private party in the Royal Suite with representatives from the Dubai government and many of the UAE’s most influential social media stars & celebrities, a bespoke scenic helicopter tour of Dubai and an incredible desert safari. The results were nothing short of amazing:

· 38% year on year Increase in online bookings during campaign month

· Coverage in over 500 publications globally with a combined viewership of 582,581,169

· 3.2+ million likes, 20,000+ comments, 18+ million audience reach, 40,000+ competition entries, 983% account growth (from 6000to 65,000 during the campaign and now over 200,000)

You simply cannot buy this level and quality of influence — the unique, property-level content acquired through this kind of exercise can be shared on social channels like Instagram and Pinterest to create top of the funnel awareness, in ads to accelerate the journey, as well as on-site to drive bookings. At the same time, influencers who deploy content on their owned social channels help brands extend their audience reach and grow their visual presence.


And talking of visual presence, YouTube announced that 400 hours of video were being uploaded to their site every minute, and in November last year, Facebook announced they are generating eight billion video views per day. According to Tubular Labs, 654.7 million videos have been uploaded by 66.7 million creators in the last year to more than 30 video platforms. And these videos have an average of 4,390 views per video.

MENA users alone upload around 2 hours of video every minute on YouTube. In the Arab region, 285 million videos are viewed every day, putting it in the number 2 spot for video views in the world, with halfof them in KSA, and 40 percent in UAE, all via mobile; video viewing time in the region is rising by 60 %year on year.

The region is also the fastest growing consumer of videos on Facebook — people in the Middle East now consume more video per person than any other region in the world. The number of video posts created per person on Facebook increased 138% in the United Arab Emirates, compared with 75% in the rest of the world.

Rafiah Ebrahim, President of Ericsson Region Middle East and Africa expects mobile datatraffic in MENA to grow 16-fold by 2021, fueled mainly by video viewing on smartphones.

Video is clearly the most effective way to tell your brand story. Here are some of my top travel video campaigns

Red Bull Atlantis waterpark :

KLM Music:

Jumeirah Inside:

Norwegian Airlines’ destination New York:

6 — Insta-Piration

Another major digital trend in travel: Instagram users tagging their friends and family within the comments section of an image. This is essentially the same as a Facebook share — a qualified engagement that increases earned reach, gets more eyes on content, and can even drive an uptick in followers. Travel marketers can nurture this behaviour by adding a basic call-to-action (“tag a friend!”) to Instagram captions.

7. Use Curalate to encourage action on Instagram content

Another call-to-action you might see popping up across travel accounts on Instagram is to “click link in bio”; that’s because Instagram images aren’t clickable unless you pay to sponsor content. Curalate Like2Buy and other interactive solutions enable consumers to take action on Instagram content and click out to booking pages, microsites and other social channels.

8. Property-level guest engagements.

As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot of user-generated content for hospitality brands –people love taking photos while they’re traveling. Insyead of just interacting with or re-posting a guest’s photo, brands can go above and beyond by engaging directly with that guest by, for example, delivering a special gift? Don’t just focus on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries either — sometimes the unexpected surprises are the most effective.

9. All hail the #Triplegram

Photo cred: @projectinspo

As users become loyal to brands on Instagram, they’re much more likely to go directly to their favorite feeds. The #triplegram — a series of three photos published consecutively that use the same aesthetic or filter — creates a mesmerizing, panorama-like experience. Definitely something to consider if you’re looking to experiment with different content formats that provide a different take on your properties.


There is so much more the travel industry could be doing to reinforce the memory of a great experience once the main event is over. Gather up those guest-posted photos. Retrieve online reviews. Share your own recordings of events guests attended at your property. Publicly thank your guests via their favorite social media platforms. Ask those guests if you can use their experience in your marketing (and offer them a property-related incentive to do so).And share, share, share. None of this is worth anything unless it’s seen by as many relevant people as possible.

The power of storytelling is at the heart of great marketing, and personalizing those stories only makes them stronger. I hope this has given you some food for thought — it certainly did for me — and hope to see you at the next travel show! #travel #digital #marketing #comms.