Tourism key for growth and diversification in MENA

By Business Reporter — MUSCAT: APRIL 25 – Tourism can be a key driver of the growth and economic diversification for the Middle East and North Africa region, concluded the 2017 Ministerial Forum organised by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai on Monday.  Yet, maximising the power of the sector requires increased regional cooperation, prioritisation of tourism in the national agendas and building resilience and sustainability, the forum emphasised.
Moderated by CNN Becky Anderson, the UNWTO/ATM Ministerial Forum concluded that the main priorities for the region include human resources development, public/private sector cooperation, connectivity, technology and sustainability. Issues on discussion included the development of domestic tourism by engaging repeat travellers, the support to innovation and entrepreneurship, the need to improve the quality and ‘perception’ of tourism employment, visa facilitation, intra-regional connectivity and the measurement of tourism’s impact through the recently launched UNWTO Initiative on Measuring Sustainable Tourism (MST).
Speakers at the Ministerial Forum included Maitha Saif Majid al Mahrouqi, Under-Secretary, Ministry of Tourism of Oman; Shaikh Khaled bin Hamoud al Khalifa, Executive Director for Bahrain Authority for Tourism and Exhibitions; Mohamed Yehia Rashed, Minister of Tourism of Egypt; Avedis Guidanian, Minister of Tourism of Lebanon; Salma Elloumi Rekik, Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts of Tunisia; Khalid Jasim al Midfa Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism, Development Authority, United Arab Emirates; Haitham Mattar, CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, United Arab Emirates; and Dr Abed al Razzaq Arabiyat, Managing Director, Jordan Tourism Board.
Participants further recalled that much of the growth of the sector comes from the high level of support at policy level it receives from many countries in the region as a tool to diversify oil-based economies.
Mohammed Khamis al Muhairi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Economy, UAE, said that tourism has proven to be one of the main pillars of economic and social development in various countries.
He pointed out that the MENA region has strong potential to become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations due to its extensive tourism attractions. He added that the region’s countries are at the threshold of a new phase of tourism growth which requires greater cooperation to ensure the maximisation of opportunities offered by this sector. He also noted the need to consolidate partnerships at the government and private levels to overcome obstacles to their efforts to enhance the competitiveness of their respective tourism sectors and make the most of tourism’s impact on their growth and development.
“Despite all external shocks, the Middle East and North Africa tell one of tourism’s biggest success stories. A story that brings an immense opportunity to make tourism a pillar of economic diversification, job creation and sustainable development in this region,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.
“Today’s meeting is an opportunity to identify the priorities of tourism policy for the MENA destinations, strengthen regional cooperation and public-private partnerships that prepare the region to welcome the 195 million international tourist arrivals — almost triple the present volume of 72 million — forecasted by UNWTO for 2030,” he added.
Simon Press, Senior Exhibition Director, ATM, said, “The Middle East is developing at an extraordinary pace as countries diversify from a dependence on hydrocarbon receipts. As such it is vital leaders in the region continue to find new ways of capitalising on tourism growth built on sustainability.”
“The UNWTO & ATM Ministerial Forum provided an effective platform for stakeholders across the industry spectrum to identify the opportunities, as well as the challenges, that currently prevail throughout the region.”
The Middle East received 53.6 million international tourist arrivals in 2016. Arrivals decreased an estimated 4 per cent with very mixed results among the region’s destinations. International tourist arrivals to North Africa grew by 3 per cent to 18.6 million.