Tourism Remains Key to Economic Growth: The World Travel Market (WTM) Celebrated Its 30th Year at ExCeL, London, This November, amid Turbulent Times for Travel and Tourism

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Tourism, despite suffering the knock-on effects of the global economic crisis, still offers areas of considerable optimism. Although its contribution to global GDP has slipped further in 2009, and recovery will likely be slow, travel remains a key engine of growth, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

Fiona Jeffery, chairman of the WTM, observes: "International travel and tourism has a hugely positive influence on the quality of people's lives across the world: last year alone, the industry created 30% of the global export of services, generating an impressive $944bn worldwide and providing jobs, investment, poverty reduction, skills training, education and much more."

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the conditions of the tourism market are starting to indicate stronger prospects for a recovery in 2010.

Many destinations show a gradual change for the better, particularly in the Middle East. The region experienced an increase of 14% in air travel, with 6,336 more flights across the region than in 2008, equivalent to 1.4m more airline seats than in 2008.

Although the overall decline in the Middle East is significant (-13%), this is the only region, apart from Africa, which posted positive results in June and July this year. Arrivals are still well above the 2007 level as the current decline follows two very strong growth years.

Also in the Middle East, various destinations bucked the overall trend and report noteworthy growth rates, i.e. Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Following years of troubles that have kept many visitors away, Lebanon is experiencing a resurgence in its tourism trade, and tourism minister Elie Marouni recently launched a 10-year plan setting out his vision for the industry. His ministry estimated that two million tourists were expected to visit Lebanon before the end of 2009, with numbers doubling on recent years. Marouni's plan involves renovating and building more hotels. There is also a high level of development in the private sector, which is also helping to maintain the industry's new-found momentum. To complement these efforts, Lebanon was recently re-elected head of the Arab Ministerial Council for Tourism, meaning it will head the body until the end of 2011.

Buoyant future

Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in tourism with contracts for 22 tourism projects amounting to $7.4bn. These include the implementation and preparation of an exhibition of antiquities of Saudi Arabia at the National Museum in King Abdulaziz Historical Centre in Riyadh, with the aim of increasing cultural awareness of antiquities, social traditions and historical values.

Dubai reported a 5% increase in visitors, to 3.85m, in the first half of 2009. This matches airport passenger traffic, which increased 5.2%. The cruise sector is also fuelling Dubai's growth and it is set to become a major cruise hub in 2010, with Costa Cruises, the leading European cruise operator, planning the first ever naming of a liner in Dubai's harbour next spring. Bahrain is also expecting a surge in cruise tourists in 2010, as well as promoting itself as a short break destination. Currently, Bahrain's tourists primarily come from Saudi Arabia.

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According to Fiona Jeffery, "The innovation within the Middle East made the region one of the most popular areas at the show, despite only occupying 10% of the overall floor space. The countries and companies in the Middle East are so focused on travel and tourism that they continually use the WTM to launch a range of new products and services.

"A growing trend is that the destinations are having more and more partners on their stands every year showcasing all the latest developments in the region."

Additional opportunities also lie in health and medical tourism, as well as backpacking and adventure tourism for tourists from the region and worldwide, in destinations such as Oman, Yemen, Jordan and Syria. …