MoniTourism
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Arabic, Geo-Localization Strategies Growing E-Tourism’s Tower of Babel.

With the rise of the Arab Spring, the Middle East has become a hotbed for marketing strategies - including some of the decade’s biggest events – specifically targeted towards the region. In January of 2014, Accor Hotels - a leading hotel operator – launched an all-Arabic version of its online booking platform, AccorHotels.com. What does Accor’s geo-localized approach tell us about the future of digital e-tourism strategy? And, when will the e-tourism industry’s Tower of Babel finally reach the heavens? The MoniTourism Editorial Team explores the emerging trends of geo-localization and digital user experiences in the e-tourism market, drawing implications on potential markets for digital targeting in the future.

In January of 2014, Accor Hotels – a leading hotel operator – launched an all-Arabic version of its online booking platform, AccorHotels.com.

In a press release on the company’s website, Accor explains its strategies for expanding its hotel presence as well as its use of digital, geo-localization strategies to appeal to the Arabic-speaking population of the Middle East, projecting sales growth of over 50% for Middle East offerings in 2014.

Accor’s move not only indicates the company’s increased focus on this popular region but also epitomizes an emerging trend in the global travel and tourism industry: a focus on user experience – especially in regards to geo-location – in captivating the attention of the digital e-tourism marketplace. But, what does Accor’s geo-localized approach tell us about the future of digital e-tourism strategy?

While research on the effectiveness of increased digital and geo-located user experiences in the travel and tourism industry is still relatively new, events like the ENTER Conference – lead by Bournemouth University’s E-Tourism Lab (experts in the field of e-tourism and digital strategies in the global travel and tourism industry) – are helping shed light on the kind of market innovations, like augmented digital realities and other technically-enhanced tourist experiences, that digital tourism players from hospitality to e-booking services are exploring and – in some cases – already implementing in their targeting of the digital travel and tourism market.

Though geo-localization is certainly nothing new to the world of digital e-tourism strategies, marketers’ use of geo-location has become more specialized and complex in recent years, splintering the e-tourism segment into a series of geo-location niches and verticals. Social strategies – including augmented realities, shared experiences, storytelling, and e-commerce - are quickly becoming geo-social strategies, with travel and tourism marketers focusing ever-more on new, geo-localized approaches that complement their already-strong social streams.

These new approaches have created a kind of Tower of Babel within the global e-tourism industry as marketers continue to narrow their focus on specific regions, cultures, and languages in the hopes of not only streamlining their company’s cost-effectiveness but competing for highly profitable yet relatively untapped markets, like the Middle East, as well.

In Accor’s case, the addition of an all-Arabic online platform designed specifically for the Middle Eastern market is just the tip of the iceberg. The Accor.com ecosystem currently offers 31 geo-located options, including 16 of the top 50 most-spoken languages according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1 – not to mention e-booking industry leaders like Expedia, who also maintain over 30 geo-located sites.

In fact, Accor will be joining Expedia – as well as other world-leading e-booking brands like Google, Skyscanner, and hotelscombined – at the 2014 Web In Travel (WIT) Middle East conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates March 26-27. There, they will discuss entrepreneurship and innovation in the world of e-travel and tourism – undoubtedly, putting a considerable amount of emphasis on their host region and country - with some of the world’s leading online travel companies like Trivago, MakeMyTrip, and more.

With so much focus on local markets in the global travel and tourism marketplace, it seems the real question is: When will the e-tourism industry’s Tower of Babel finally reach the heavens? A state of global equilibrium between geo-specificity and cost-effectiveness?

It is interesting to note that, of the world’s most widely spoken languages (as reported by UNESCO), Mandarin currently has the largest number of native speakers, nearly 1.2 billion, while Hindi-Urdu is fourth with 260 million native speakers and Bengali seventh with 193 million.

For instance, Google is putting a considerable amount of emphasis on the Southern region of Asia – and India in particular - by creating, designing, and developing a number of applications in regional or Indian languages specifically targeted to the South Asian market. They have even been hosting workshops in Bangalore, India for local designers and developers - amateurs and professionals alike – to participate in adapting Google’s applications to their native tongue.

Perhaps, in the coming months and years, we will continue to see a boon in digital strategies targeted to South Asian regions, cultures, and languages – as well as other Eastern markets – as the e-tourism industry continues to test new markets and digital user interfaces.

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