Participating for the first time in the Arabian Travel Market, Google announced the results of an independent study conducted by Ipsos to better understand the decision making process of travellers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The study, entitled “Traveller’s Road to Decision,” revealed that users in both countries are tech savvy and rely on mobiles and videos when making travel decisions.
The initial finding from the study is that the web plays a key role in the decision making process for both leisure and business travellers in the UAE and in KSA. Apart from direct advice from friends and family, the internet is the number one source for trip planning for more than a third of leisure travellers surveyed (39% UAE, 38% KSA). This number rises for business travellers — in the UAE it jumps to 50%, while in KSA it jumps to 48%.
What leisure users are doing online varies from Saudi to the Emirates. In Saudi, leisure travellers rely on social networks and search engines as sources of information; while in the UAE, they rely on search engines primarily, before online videos and maps as sources of information. This mirrors the US where search engines are the leading source for information.
With smartphone ownership and improved connectivity continuing to grow rapidly in the region, it is no surprise that travellers are using their mobile devices when planning trips. Among those that use the internet to plan their travel, 48% have used their smartphone in the past year to engage in a travel related activity, rising to 69% for smartphones or tablets specifically. Travel related activity includes everything from booking a flight or hotel, to writing reviews on travel sites; checking weather or maps for a travel destination, searching destinations, watching or posting travel videos among other online activities. Saudis lead the way with their mobile usage when it comes to travel – with 50% of travellers accessing the web through smartphones, while it’s 35% in the UAE.
Marie De Ducla, Head of Travel Industry at Google MENA, commented on the study, “Today, especially in the Middle East, travellers are constantly connected to the internet and it is no surprise that mobile is part of their exploring and decision making process. The lack of bookings made online through smartphones is surprising, but represents a massive opportunity for the travel industry to improve their online presence, and tap into the UAE and KSA travellers who more and more are using their phones as a digital concierge.”
A new opportunity exists for travel brands in online video and the data is significant. According to the study, travellers use video as a popular source for the first two stages of planning travel – when “thinking about taking a trip” and “choosing a destination.” In Saudi, 81% of leisure travellers; 92% of business travellers and 87% of affluent travellers watch online videos. Among those who watch online videos 85% of them watch at least once a week, while 69% watch several times a week and approximately 80% watch those videos on YouTube.
Additionally, affluent UAE travellers use online videos as their number one source for planning trips (21%) in conjunction with online map sites. Following videos and maps, affluent travellers use airline websites(18%), travel review sites (13%) and search engines (5%) when making travel decisions.
Visiting family is cited as the number one reason for travel across UAE and KSA. They make up 71% of trips for KSA travellers and 55% for UAE travellers.
Last minute booking is extremely high in Saudi for leisure and business travellers; with more than 50% of the respondents saying they book less than two weeks in advance. In the UAE, 35% of respondents say they book less than two weeks in advance.
Locals in the UAE use Internet to plan leisure trips more than anyone else (61%)
Arabs in the UAE use internet more than anyone else to plan business trips (50% of those surveyed).