Lastminute.com eyes Middle East

LASTMINUTE.COM is considering a bid to tap into the Middle East’s tourism boom by establishing a regional presence.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  September 11, 2005

The late travel and leisure deal retailer is experiencing growth in web bookings from the Arab World and has already set up an office in Dubai for its car rental division, Holiday Autos. The creation of a regional sales and marketing team would allow it to promote its full range of services to Middle Eastern consumers, as well as develop relationships with local airlines and hotels. “There is an opportunity for lastminute.com,” said Nazar Musa, managing director of Holiday Autos Middle East and a consultant for the lastminute group. “There is this period before people will start to book holidays properly online, but something should happen in the next 12 months,” he added. The move comes in reponse to increasing usage of the firm’s site to book leisure services by regional consumers when they are travelling to Europe. Lastminute’s partners are also using its portal to sell regional inventory — Hilton International, for example, says it has generated several thousand bookings in the Middle East after inking a deal with the group in 2004. “We can track purchases by IP address and physical address and there is some purchasing that happens here [in the Middle East],” added Musa. “It’s things like theatre products and football tickets in London, for people living here in the Middle East.” The region’s hotel groups are also now increasingly looking to the web as a marketing tool and distribution channel, despite consumers’ initially slow adoption of the internet for bookings. Hilton is planning to run e-marketing campaigns this year for its Middle Eastern hotels and eventually launch dedicated sites for its main Arab markets. “We are all very keen to drive online business,” said Guy Epsom, regional sales and marketing director for Hilton. “We have not yet got an Arabic site, but that will come in the future.” Lastminute, one of the foremost European internet brands and a media darling of the dotcom boom in the late 1990s, was acquired by the Texas-based travel company Sabre Holdings earlier this year for around US$1 billion. As well as short-notice flight and hotel deals, it offers bookings for various lifestyle services such as theatres, concerts, travel insurance and restaurants. Although Musa said that the company is now purely focusing on the Holiday Autos business in the Middle East, he said there are also untapped opportunities in the region for Sabre’s other online travel brands, including Site59 and Travelocity. Sabre also created a sales and distribution joint venture with Bahrain-based Gulf Air last year.

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