Travel agents are preparing for a boom in the online travel sector in the Middle East, with companies investing millions in websites in order to cater to a growing demand from consumers for booking travel via the web.

Kanoo Travel, the biggest travel company in the Middle East is preparing to launch its first fully-fledged online travel bookings portal, complete with payment gateways offering air, car and hotel products. Kanoo is currently in the process of “fine tuning” the product before the launch.

Sunil D'souza, country manager UAE & Oman, Kanoo Travel said: “The Middle East has one of the fastest growing internet populations in the world. E-commerce could be worth in the region of US$30-90 billion, depending on your source of information, and the sector will grow very significantly in the future. At Kanoo, we represent several major airlines and we know from them that a growing proportion of their transactions are happening online. This is a clear indication that the market is changing and that consumers are seeking to book their travel online.”

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D’Souza estimated that with the launch of a number of new web products, Kanoo’s online business would grow rapidly over the next five years to represent a “double digit” proportion of the company’s total travel business.

Orient Travel is also investing making major investments into the its online business. Asim Arshad, CEO, Orient Travel said the company was making an initial US$ 108,906 (AED 400,000) investment into its online strategy.

“Broadly speaking the website will have all airline content, special fares, hotel rates, package tours,” he said. “It time for us to have an online booking tool for our organisation, because that has become an essential requirement in today’s marketplace, especially for our retail, leisure as well as corporate clients, and furthermore to increase our market reach.”