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Arabian Travel Market Dubai 2024In a resounding call for action, industry leaders at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2024 underscored the urgent need for increased investment in Middle East travel startups. Held at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the event brought together key figures in the travel and tourism sector to discuss the region’s potential and the challenges hindering its growth.

Investment: The Critical Ingredient for Growth

Despite the Middle East contributing around 5% to global travel revenues, its share of international startup funding remains disproportionately low, as highlighted by McKinsey & Company. While the post-pandemic period has seen a notable rise in investments, experts at ATM 2024 stressed that the current levels are insufficient to support the burgeoning travel startup ecosystem.

Danielle Curtis, Exhibition Director ME at Arabian Travel Market, emphasized, “It is encouraging to see increased travel investment in the Middle East, but much more is needed to nurture entrepreneurs and startups in the region. The potential for growth and disruption is significant, yet the challenges are equally formidable.”

Insights from the Experts

The “Nurturing Travel and Tourism Entrepreneurship to Drive Economic Growth” summit featured prominent industry leaders who shared their perspectives on the investment landscape. Speakers included:

  • Margaux Constantin, Partner at McKinsey & Company
  • Danny Cohanpour, CEO of Trove Tourism Development Advisors
  • Charaf El Mansouri, Co-Founder and CEO of Dharma
  • Mona Faraj, Co-Founder and CEO of ExploreTECH
  • Amna Al Redha, Manager of AviationXLab, Emirates Group Future Technology and Innovations

Margaux Constantin commented on the prevailing investor mindset: “Our clients interested in Middle East travel and tourism investments often look for asset-light, EBITDA-positive, and minimum-ticket-size companies. This narrow focus means they compete for a very small pool of companies. A broader, more flexible approach is necessary to fuel entrepreneurship in the region.”

Overcoming Investment Barriers

Summit speakers identified several obstacles that travel entrepreneurs face, including perceived high risks and extended return periods. However, they also noted that companies with compelling value propositions could attract the right investors.

Integrating advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Web3, and cryptocurrency emerged as critical factors in securing investment. While these technologies may not be the primary focus for many startups, incorporating them into business strategies can enhance their appeal to modern investors.

Danny Cohanpour, CEO of Trove Tourism Development Advisors, stated, “Travel startups that effectively integrate cutting-edge technologies into their operations and marketing will stand out. These innovations not only improve customer experiences but also streamline operations, making these businesses more attractive to investors.”

Embracing Innovation and Disruption

Panelists emphasized the necessity of embracing innovation to attract investment. Startups that leverage AI, Web3, and cryptocurrency are more likely to succeed in a competitive market.

Charaf El Mansouri, Co-Founder and CEO of Dharma, highlighted, “Incorporating these technologies is not just about staying relevant; it’s about transforming the travel experience. Startups that harness the power of AI and blockchain can offer unique value propositions that appeal to both customers and investors.”

Nurturing Future Talent

The largest edition of ATM to date also focused on cultivating the next generation of travel and tourism professionals. Sessions like “Educating Young Entrepreneurs: Building a Career in Travel” and “Network with Future Leaders” highlighted the importance of fostering young talent and promoting a culture of innovation within the industry.

Mona Faraj, Co-Founder and CEO of ExploreTECH remarked, “Investing in young talent is crucial for the sustainable growth of the travel industry. We can ensure a vibrant and innovative future for Middle East travel by nurturing creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.”


ATM 2024 has spotlighted the urgent need for increased investment in Middle East travel startups. The region can unlock its full potential in the global travel market by addressing the identified challenges and seizing the opportunities for innovation and growth. The message from industry experts is clear: more investment is essential to nurture the next wave of travel entrepreneurs and position the Middle East as a leader in travel innovation.




Written by: Kevin Hall