Spreading the word

ITP Business Publishing's Destination Marketing Survey reveals that in order to market attractions globally, as is the plan for a third of the Gulf's leisure operations, several challenges must be overcome

Leisure, Opinion, Comment & analysis
Leisure, Opinion, Comment & analysis

ITP Business Publishing's Destination Marketing Survey reveals that in order to market attractions globally, as is the plan for a third of the Gulf's leisure operations, several challenges must be overcome

Marketing teams within the leisure industry have a tough job on their hands, according to the findings of ITP Business Publishing’s Destination Marketing Survey.

The survey, completed by 179 Leisure Manager online subscribers, reveals at least five distinct challenges faced by leisure professionals when it comes to marketing their product. Indeed, almost two thirds of respondents (60.6%) believe that marketing a leisure attraction is more challenging than marketing a hotel. Only 14% think it is less difficult.
Hitting the target

The first issue revealed by the Destination Marketing Survey was the limited number of staff dedicated to marketing leisure facilities. The majority of leisure businesses (55%) have between one and five people responsible for marketing, but 16% have no marketing team at all. Just 8.3% of the sample reported a team of 20-plus people responsible for marketing.

The second issue affecting more than a third (35.3%) of the respondents surveyed is that their leisure destination, product or service needs to be marketed globally, that is across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Europe, The Americas, Asia Pacific, and Africa/Indian Ocean.

However, the domestic and regional market is most critical to the success of leisure attractions and facilities in the Middle East, with almost half of leisure managers in the Gulf identifying the MENA region as their key target global market.

In addition, 56.8% of respondents said that their key target demographic consisted of Arab nationals and expatriates combined.

A quarter (25.8%) are targeting overseas markets specifically, 11.4% are targeting expatriates and just 6.1% are relying on Arab nationals.

The most significant target market was the 35-45 year age group (46.9%), with the 23-35 year age group rated second in importance. Only 3-4% of respondents said they were targeting the 18-25 years and the 65 years plus age groups.

Defining challenges

The survey asked respondents to rate a series of challenges in terms of the difficulty they present when delivering a leisure marketing strategy. Instead of revealing one major challenge, the findings showed that marketing in the leisure industry is affected by five quite significant factors.

The unique make-up of the population in the Middle East will certainly impact the delivery of marketing strategies, according to the findings. Almost half of those surveyed (46.5%) rated “appealing to the various demographics” as being “quite challenging” with another 23.6% reporting that this was “very challenging”. Only 4.7% claimed the diverse population mix had no impact on delivering marketing.

“Changing construction time lines” — another region-specific challenge — were rated as being “quite challenging” by 34.6% of respondents and “very challenging” by 26.9% of the sample.

On the positive side, this was also the category that had the largest group claim that it made no impact on the marketing of their leisure facility, although admittedly this was only the case for 13% of the respondents.

The third challenge of “marketing to overseas visitors” — already highlighted as a significant aspect in destination marketing for leisure professionals — was rated as “quite challenging” by nearly 40% of respondents and “very challenging” by more than a quarter of them (25.8%).

The challenges that were highlighted as the most difficult to overcome were those of “securing budgets” and “defining a product that remains incomplete”.

Almost a third of leisure professionals (31.5%) said securing budgets for marketing was “very challenging” and a similar number of respondents (29.7%) rated defining an incomplete product in the same category, with an extra 7% saying that this was an “almost impossible” challenge to overcome.

Less than 2% of the respondents felt that any of the other challenges discussed above belonged in this category.

Moving forward

With these difficulties acknowledged, the message to leisure marketing professionals is to allow themselves plenty of time in which to manage these challenges when delivering their marketing strategy.

More than half of all respondents (50.4%) said the marketing strategy would be implemented six months prior to opening. Perhaps those allowing one year (39.8%) or three years (8.3%) will find a smoother road ahead.


Mixed-use leisure facility: 50.4%
Wellness destination (spa, retreat etc): 16.5%
Themed attractions sector: 13%
Cultural attraction (museum, gallery etc): 10.4%
Recreation facility (sports stadium, golf course etc): 9.6%


In November 2008 ITP Business Publishing sent the Destination Marketing Survey to online subscribers of Hotelier Middle East, Arabian Travel News, Leisure Manager, Meetings Industry Middle East and Retail News.

More than 1,700 readers responded to the survey, with the majority working in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.


The Destination Marketing Survey was also answered by 850 hoteliers for sister title Hotelier Middle East.

Some of the findings provide food for thought for the leisure sector, particularly where the guest profile is concerned.

According to the respondents, the primary source market for guests continues to be corporate and business travellers, with more than 50% of respondents classifying their client mix as “entirely business” or “predominantly business, some leisure”.

Despite the large developer investment in resort destinations throughout the Middle East region, just 17% of respondents identified their clients as “ predominantly leisure” or “entirely leisure”. 

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