Today's podcast looks at the strength and weaknesses of Middle East's tourism sector, how travel companies are using artificial intelligence, and some fresh funding for travel startup Klook.
Skift Daily Briefing Podcast
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Good morning from Skift. It’s Friday, December 8. Here’s what you need to know about the business of travel today.
The Middle East was the fastest-growing tourism region this year until the Israel-Hamas war began in October. No other region in the world saw its tourism fully recover this year — let alone surpass their pre-pandemic level, reports Dawit Habtemariam, Skift’s Global Tourism Reporter.
Through September, the Middle East saw its international tourist arrivals rise 20% above pre-pandemic levels, according to the UN World Tourism Organization.
Two factors boosting Middle Eastern tourism were expanded air connectivity by airlines like Emirates and investments by tour operators like Intrepid Travel. Those ongoing strengths may help the broader region rebound if a truce in Gaza is brokered.
Next, more travel companies are investing in the potential for artificial intelligence to help overhaul both customer sales and internal operations.
Amazon Web Services had a conference last week, sharing AI-based updates to services used by travel companies such as Accor, Cathay Pacific, and Booking.com, reports Justin Dawes, Skift’s tech reporter.
Exhibit A was a new AI-based trip planning tool from Accor, the Paris-based hotel group.
The chatbot helps recommend rooms at a hotel as well as local tours and activities based on answers to questions it asks travelers and past customer reviews of activities.
Accor’s new chatbot may help travelers find it easier to plan trips. It may also reduce call volumes at Accor’s contact center.
Finally, travel startup Klook has raised $210 million in financing. Klook has now raised more than $900 million in financing since its founding in 2014, reports Sean O’Neill, Skift’s Senior Hospitality Editor.
The Asia-based startup, with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, competes with Berlin-based GetYourGuide as the most heavily funded startup in selling travel experiences, such as walking tours.
Bessemer Venture Partners and other notable investors took part in the funding round. Klook said it was profitable and was aiming to go public someday.
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Photo credit: Tourists on Citadel Hill in Amman, Jordan. Skift