Tourism grows in MENA region with Dubai drawing one-third of foreign tourism receipts

MENA Research Partners said the region’s tourism industry is expected to reach $350 billion by 2027.
Sunday 23/09/2018
A tourist couple takes a photo in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai.(Reuters)
Stunning landmark. A tourist couple takes a photo in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai.(Reuters)

ABU DHABI - The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is increasingly becoming a leading tourist destination, with Emirati attractions leading the list of places to visit in 2018.

Among locations mentioned in Time magazine’s list of MENA sites were the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi along with the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Saudi Arabia, the Qarawiyyin Library in Morocco and Cairo’s Marriott Mena House Hotel.

“Vibrancy of the tourism industry in the MENA region can be attributed to a myriad of factors, chief among them being the substantial government initiatives to boost tourism,” said Mamoun Hmedan, managing director for MENA and India at travel search engine Wego.

“Then there is the kaleidoscope of shared historical and cultural heritage set against the backdrop of stunning cityscapes, beaches, oases and rolling desert landscape that just seem to magnetically draw tourists to the region.”

A better security climate is drawing foreign tourists back in such places as Tunisia and Egypt.

Hmedan mentioned some regional tourist gems attracting visitors, including the Jordan trail, Morocco’s Chefchaouen and Jordan’s Dead Sea.

“Also taking the lead with its tourism prowess is Dubai, which makes for nearly one-third of the Middle East’s total international tourism receipts, according to United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s latest annual report,” Hmedan said.

“The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTM) continues to raise the bar by investing in creative campaigns to promote the city’s stunning landmarks, world-class shopping malls, eased visa regulations, luxury hotels and internationally renowned festivals. Such concerted efforts are sure to pave the way for the city to achieve DTCM’s Tourism Vision 2020.”

The opening of new hotels in 2019 across Abu Dhabi combined with its unique cultural archetypes, diverse natural offerings and dynamic family-leisure entertainment options are expected to collectively attract 8.5 million tourists by 2021.

“Tourism is a key driver for the social and economic development of Abu Dhabi, as well as a significant contributor to the UAE’s diversification strategy,” said Mubarak al-Shamsi, director of the Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau at the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi.

“Tourism is vital for protecting, enhancing and promoting cultural heritage. This is a unique value proposition of Abu Dhabi and has been since the first tourism department and museum were set up by our late founding father, Sheikh Zayed, in 1969.”

“We have continued to build on this legacy, paired with the introduction of world-class attractions like the recently opened Louvre Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, to reinforce Abu Dhabi as a 21st-century city,” he said.

In Dubai, there was a 2% annual increase in tourists in April from a year ago, with more Russians and Chinese visiting. The emirate received 4.7 million visitors in the first quarter of the year, with a target of 20 million tourists yearly by 2020.

“The numbers have gone up and the type of tourists is slightly changing,” said Vinayak Mahtani, CEO of Bnbme, a holiday home management company in the UAE. “Qataris are not coming here anymore but Europeans are. Chinese and Indians are in the highest numbers than ever before, with China experiencing a 30% growth in terms of numbers coming here, which is phenomenal.”

MENA Research Partners said the region’s tourism industry is expected to reach $350 billion by 2027.

“Even the General Entertainment Authority in Saudi Arabia recently announced plans to invest more than $64 billion in its entertainment sector, with more than 5,000 events planned for the coming year,” Hmedan said. “This positions Saudi as the go-to destination for regional travel by families and culture lovers, especially from Dubai and Bahrain.”

As a result, the job market in the MENA region is also set to improve, with the World Travel and Tourism Council’s “City Travel and Tourism Impact 2017 Middle East and Africa” report noting that 2.8% of jobs in the region are supported by travel and tourism. The Middle East accounts for 6.8% of the global travel and tourism GDP.

“These numbers are only set to grow in the near future,” Hmedan added. “Therefore, we expect this high-potential sector to carry on with enabling sustainable economic growth, job creation and diversification, in the region.”

He said such a rise in tourism also presents significant opportunities for entrepreneurship in destination management, tour provisions, infrastructure management and other tourism-led activities, while sustained infrastructural investments, by the government and private companies, will better support the growing tourist influx.

The industry is said to represent a fundamental economic pillar for the future of the region as it gradually shifts away from oil. “The economy cannot survive on oil as it has been for so many years,” Mahtani said. “Dubai has shown that the UAE can survive without depending on oil and Abu Dhabi has taken a good lead in terms of cultural attractions.

“Oman has also become a destination for eco-friendly, sustainable high-end luxury hotels so countries like Bahrain and Kuwait will need to step it up to keep up with the trend.”