Middle Eastern Tourism Market Proves Resilient

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

DESPITE THE RECENT REGIONAL UNREST, THE PARTICIPANTS at the Arab Travel Market (ATM) ,held from 2-5 May in Dubai, were confident about the strength of the regional travel sector and optimistic about its future growth prospects.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Saudi Arabia alone is the largest outbound travel market in terms of average spend, with Saudi nationals spending $6.7 billion per year on overseas travel. Further evidence of the burgeoning inbound and outbound travel market comes from Dubai International Airport, which anticipates growth of 11% and more than 52 million passengers in 2011, making it the fourth-busiest airport in the world. The Middle East region currently receives more than 36 million visitors per year, with this figure set to climb to 69 million tourists by 2020, an average annual growth rate of 6.7%, even before factoring in the predicted positive impact of Qatar's successful 2022 FIFA World Cup bid.

According to Mark Walsh, Group Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions: "Inbound tourism is in good health as well, with UNWTO research indicating inbound tourism to the Middle East returned to double-digit growth of 14%, with almost all destinations growing by 10% or more in 2010. With the exception of Libya and Syria, life in other parts of the region is now gradually returning to normal, while destinations such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai actually recorded increased visitor numbers, especially in February. UAE Economy Minister Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri said he had already seen an increase in tourism in the first four months of 2011.

Gulf states least affected by regional turmoil are likely to see a boost in tourism, analysts say, with the UAE outperforming other destinations. "Dubai has benefited drastically, with a high occupancy rates and more tourists, because your average Arab who used to go to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, or Egypt finds these countries suffering from unrest," said Mahdi Mattar, chief economist at Abu Dhabi-based CAPM Investment.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Spotlighting the strength of certain regional destinations, Walsh pointed to the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia. "In the UAE, the number of hotel guests in Dubai grew by 10.7% during 2010, while Abu Dhabi saw visitor growth of 18% in 2010. Qatar's $100 billion programme of infrastructure expansion includes 80,000 new hotel rooms by 2022. In Oman, leisure tourism is already booming, with 10% average annual growth in hotel stays. Oman's business tourism is also primed for growth, with the beginning of construction on the new $l billion Oman Conference and Exhibition Centre in Muscat. Likewise, the Gulf's most-populous nation, Saudi Arabia, is also growing in popularity as a destination for religious, business and cultural tourism, with BMI (airline British Midland International) anticipating growth of 6. …