Highlights from the 2018 AITO Overseas Conference in Ras Al Khaimah

by Tom Dunn

Wild Dog were privileged to attend this year’s AITO Overseas Conference in Ras Al Khaimah last week. RAK is one of the smallest of the seven Emirates making up the U.A.E., and for most attendees (even such seasoned travellers as AITO members) it was a first time trip. An hour away from Dubai, RAK is positioning itself as the more easy-going, manageable, cultured alternative. The mountain range beginning on the outskirts of the city is the highest in the region, with scope for climbing, walking, mountain biking and thrill seeking in the form of the world’s longest zipline.

As well as the chance to take part in some of the above, there was a full packed agenda of business sessions, with a host of speakers from the world of travel and beyond. Stardust speakers included Tim Willcox from BBC News, discussing how news can have such a strong influence in shaping public perception of countries and regions.

Dr Eliza Firby, a Generations Expert, created some healthy debate by informing a room full of (mostly) Baby-Boomers that they are more like Millennials than they realised, and suggested some ways that travel companies need to re-shape themselves for the next generation of customers and employees.

Arva Ahmed, Chief Executive of Frying Pan Adventures told us her experiences of setting up a successful business in the U.A.E. as a woman, whilst showing us the other side of Dubai – a world of street markets, home cooking and unique cuisine.

On day two, we heard from Monty Halls, former Royal Marine and star of My Family and the Galapagos. He talked about the plight of the Galapagos (and, indeed, the rest of the world) and how living on the islands with his wife and two girls (the ginger ninjas) gave the audience a new, human experience.

You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium when former RAF Pilot, John Peters, talked through his ordeal after being shot down and captured in the Gulf War in 1991. Linking his experiences to the skills needed to adapt and succeed in the world of business puts the plight of the humble web designer in perspective.

Alongside the keynote speeches, factors impacting the world of specialist travel were also discussed and debated. Overtourism, sustainability, Brexit, security all seemed to be universal issues, with a sound bite of ‘from profit to purpose’ resounding with all attendees.

Wild Dog had a particular interest in the research findings conducted by Spike Marketing. As sponsors we had a vested interest in finding out how AITO customers use different devices in different stages of the travel purchase journey. More to come when the details are released early next year, but it gave us a chance to talk through our own research into technology and specialist travel in front of a captive audience.

Slightly less captivating was the performance of the AITO All Stars on the football pitch. For some reason we seemed to be playing a team of South American expats on average half our age, so maybe the result (official score: many goals to not many goals) was never going to be in doubt. At least we know what it’ll feel like for the England team at the next World Cup – also being held in the Middle East in November. Consultancy services to the FA have been offered. We wait to hear…

 

All smiles in the pre-match photo

 

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