Tourism experts look to future of the industry in MENA after pandemic

Many are convinced that countries of the region will have to introduce fundamental changes to their travel policies.
Friday 05/06/2020
Ground hostesses  assist travellers from behind glass windows at Dubai International Airport on May 22. (AFP)
Ground hostesses assist travellers from behind glass windows at Dubai International Airport on May 22. (AFP)

DUBAI –As some countries begin opening up and preparing to coexist with the novel coronavirus, MENA tourism and travel experts are beginning to examine how to effectively reshape their industries for the future.

While many countries continue to enforce stringent travel restrictions, Middle East experts are confident that “tourism will bounce back” and coming up with strategies to improve the market.

Experts recently convened for a virtual Arabian Travel Market (ATM) event, during which they discussed sustainable investment measures for the Middle East travel and tourism sector and  strategies to restore travellers confidence.

COVID-19 has caused hotels to close and grounded planes for months, leaving millions without a job in vital industries.

In March, the World Travel and Tourism Council forecast that international travel could fall by up to 25% this year.

But while developed economies could be hit particularly hard, some regions – particularly the Middle East – are forecast to recover more rapidly, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Taleb Rifai, chairman of the International Tourism & Investment Conference (ITIC), agreed that the Middle East’s tourism sector would quickly revive, stating during the conference “that “life post containment is incredibly important and the need for economic recovery is now.”

After the pandemic, many are convinced that countries will have to introduce fundamental changes to travel policies in order. Once airports and borders are open again, investors will have to look for new ways to robust demand for international travel returns.

According to Gerald Lawless, ambassador for the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), “tourism will bounce back, and how we make it bounce back is so important.”

“It is a time for opportunity and that is something investors will always look for. Investors are out there, and they will be in the future. There are investment opportunities within our industry, particularly in the hotel sector and we will see this developing and evolving over the coming weeks and months,” he added.

Discussing Dubai’s future investment opportunities, Issam Kazim, CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), said: “Dubai has a lot of multinational companies who have established their regional headquarters here.

“Dubai has a lot to offer these businesses in terms of systems and the different free-zones giving companies the opportunity and flexibility to be able to practice their business in a way that is comfortable for them. The lifestyle of Dubai also makes it very easy for people to relocate. It simply becomes an offer too good to refuse.”

Nicolas Mayer, EMEA Hospitality & Tourism Center of Excellence Industry Leader, PwC, pointed to prime real estate opportunities that are available: “Many of the primary real estate markets in this region, in the UAE, Saudi, and Oman for example, are phenomenally dynamic. Yes, they have taken a hit, but they have demonstrated in the past the ability to ramp up again and go beyond what it used to be, before anywhere else in the world, which makes one very confident in investing,” he said.

Foreign direct investment was also a hot topic during the conference,  particularly from Saudi Arabia as it expands its tourism offerings.

Majed Al Ghanim, managing director of Tourism & Quality of Life at Saudi Arabia’s Investment Ministry, said “in addition to the local and regional buying power in Saudi, we believe we have an attractive offering for investors from overseas with all the of the new sites and destinations coming up in Saudi Arabia. We are a destination that is ready, open, and looking forward to welcoming visitors to Saudi Arabia.”