Dubai: Big data is having a transformative effect on hospitality across the Middle East and beyond. However, leading hoteliers speaking on the opening day of Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2023, which will run at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) until Thursday 4 May, emphasised that human intervention remains essential if owners and operators wish to derive genuine value from the information being gathered.‘Hospitality Debate: What More Can Big Data Unlock?’ featured a range of expert insights into the power of data to improve guest experiences within the Middle East’s hospitality sector. Moderated by Paul Clifford, Group Editor – Hospitality & Design at ITP Media Group, the session saw Chris Hartley, CEO of Global Hotel Alliance; Tommy Lai, Chief Executive Officer at General Hotel Management Pte Ltd; Sandeep Walia, Chief Operations Officer – Middle East at Marriott; and Nicolas Huss, CEO of Hotelbeds, take to the ATM Global Stage to share their views.Commenting on advancements in the hospitality sector’s data capabilities over the past decade, General Hotel Management Pte Ltd’s Lai said: “It used to be you’d need a lot of people for analysis, but now, you can collect data and AI will decipher it for you. Big data and AI are evening the playing field between small groups and larger brands.”Speaking on the importance of interpretation, Marriott’s Walia said: “This technology can help guests to narrow down the hotels they would like to stay in,” noting that big data – when used in combination with AI – can help to identify the best options for customers. “But ultimately, guests have to connect with us to make the booking, so the balance between AI and the human touch is equally important and can’t be forgotten.”Reiterating the importance of quality over quantity, Global Hotel Alliance’s Hartley said: “Acquiring data is one thing but that isn’t ‘big data’. It’s what you do with the data that’s critical. We’ve known for years, for example, that credit card companies have a huge amount of data on spend – way beyond the hotel. This tells you a lot more about the customer than they might reveal to you during a one-off stay.”Hotelbeds’ Huss agreed but warned that an ethical approach is essential in order to realise the full potential of this information. “I think there are several rules,” he said. “The first is that everything has to be anonymous. The second is that we must ensure that the data we have adds value to the guest experience. And finally, we must acknowledge that the way we behave when we’re staying at a hotel doesn’t always reflect what we do when we leave that environment. We will only thrive if we have the best data and some form of human care.”Day one of ATM 2023 featured 20 sessions across the Global Stage, Travel Tech Stage and Sustainability Hub. Other highlights from the day included the Technology: The Enabler of Sustainable Travel session, the funding of sustainability and Enhancing the Customer Experience Through AI. The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance also touched on the importance of protecting the locations, livelihoods and communities in which hotels are based, in the Achieving Net Positive Hospitality session.The 30th edition of ATM is taking place as part of Arabian Travel Week (1-10 May 2023), a festival of events dedicated to enabling industry professionals from all over the world to collaborate and capitalise on market opportunities through exhibitions, conferences, breakfast briefings, awards, product launches and networking events.Those attending ATM 2023 in person can get involved in the conversation online by using the hashtag #ATMDubai when posting on social media channels.ATM 2023 is being held in conjunction with Dubai World Trade Centre, and its strategic partners include Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) as the Destination Partner, Emirates as the Official Airline Partner, IHG Hotels & Resorts as the Official Hotel Partner, and Al Rais Travel as the Official DMC Partner.The latest ATM news stories are available at https://hub.wtm.com/category/press/atm-press-releases/.