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A California CEO Dream Team Breaks New Ground in the Middle East

By Leona Reed 05/15/2019

Visit California led its first diplomatic mission to the Middle East in late April to explore the market’s potential for California’s tourism industry. Seven California DMO CEOs joined Visit California President & CEO Caroline Beteta and Board Chair James Bermingham (Montage International) for six days filled with strategic meetings and promotional networking events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. 

The Gulf Cooperation Council region (consisting of six countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) is among the most complex of international markets. It also happens to be one of the fastest growing outbound tourism generating regions in the world, with travel quadrupling in the past 20 years. In terms of the market potential, Visit California expects to see a pronounced rebound in travel from the Middle East this year. This marked an ideal time to start looking at how California can regain lost air service, grow its market share and capitalize on the incredible affluence in the GCC nations. 

In 2019, 264,000 Middle Eastern travelers are forecasted to visit the Golden State. By 2022, growth in travel from the Middle East is projected to outpace several of the state’s top target markets—approaching 300,000 visitors. Wealthy Millennials are considered the average Middle Eastern traveler, with approximately 50% of visitors from the region being under the age of 34. During their lengthy luxury trips, they spend heavily on entertainment, retail and accommodations. 

The market is a natural fit for Visit California’s luxury portfolio, with an emphasis on families and Millennials, and aligns with the organization's nascent sustainable growth strategy, given the high-spending nature and travel habits of the Middle Eastern visitor.

Given its lucrative growth potential for the Golden State, this mission was designed to help attendees better understand the GCC’s nuances and consumer landscape in order to refine the organization's strategy and marketing approach. Business development was equally important to market education, particularly developing closer marketing alliances with the airlines. The delegation also went into the mission knowing there is a significant lack of awareness and understanding of the California product among trade and consumers.

By all measures, the mission was a resounding success. This CEO Dream Team was able to personally deliver the message that California is a welcoming, multi-cultural destination with a diverse hospitality industry catering to the respective needs of Arab and Muslim visitors. As a result, Visit California's “All Dreams Welcome” messaging was very well-received. 

Through 16 meetings and events, the delegation forged new business relationships and built upon existing relationships with airlines, travel trade, media, influencers and luxury brands. In addition, Visit California launched the “Kidifornia” campaign to consumers and digital influencers. (As a bonus, it was a delightful surprise to see many kids in the audience, which was a very first for such an industry event!)

Following are the key insights about this unique market, which will influence Visit California's approach moving forward and that may be useful in your own marketing to this audience.

Middle East Travel Preferences

To cater to this audience, the following should be accommodated and considered:

GCC Nuances

Consumers in the six countries of the GCC differ in unique ways:

Audience Insights

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