UAE's travel industry set to create 23,600 new jobs this year

World Travel and Tourism Council chief says current geopolitical tensions in the Middle East have not dampened international visitors' demand for the wider region

Tourists gather to look at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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The UAE's travel and tourism sector is projected to create 23,600 additional jobs in 2024 to reach a total of about 833,000 jobs this year, with the outlook remaining strong despite the continuing Israel-Gaza war, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

That is up 2.9 per cent from last year and 14.7 per cent from 2019 before the pandemic that decimated the sector worldwide, the global tourism body said on Thursday in its latest UAE Economic Impact report.

Tourists to the UAE are expected to increase their spending during visits to the country that is home to the world's tallest building, iconic luxury hotels and an outpost of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi.

International visitor spending in the UAE is projected to grow 9.5 per cent year-on year to reach nearly Dh192 billion ($52.2 billion) in 2024, the WTTC data shows. Meanwhile, domestic visitor spending is forecast to increase by 4.3 per cent to stand at Dh58 billion.

The UAE travel and tourism sectors' contribution to the national gross domestic product in 2024 will reach Dh236.4 billion, representing 12 per cent of the total economy, the WTTC data shows. The sector's estimated contribution to the Arab world's second largest economy this year is a 7.6 per cent increase from 2023 and up 23 per cent compared to 2019.

The UAE's travel outlook is buoyed by the ease of travel through its airports, "sensible" visa policies, diverse tourism offerings, greater opportunities for business travel and the expected return of Chinese visitors to the country in larger numbers this year, Julia Simpson, the WTTC president and chief executive, told The National on Thursday during a trip to Abu Dhabi.

"The UAE is really knocking it out of the park in terms of attracting visitors," she said.

"In 2019, Chinese visitors were the third-biggest visitors to the UAE, then they dropped off the top five. I'm sure they’ll be back this year," she said, citing gradual improvements in China's airline capacity.

The UAE in November 2022 announced an ambitious national tourism strategy that aims to raise the sector’s contribution to the GDP to Dh450 billion by 2031, with an annual increase of Dh27 billion. It also targets attracting 40 million hotel guests by 2031 and Dh100 billion in tourism investment to the UAE.

Dubai International Airport (DXB) has retained its crown as the world's busiest international hub for passengers for a 10th consecutive year in 2023, as long-haul travel demand continues to boom, preliminary data by the Airports Council International (ACI) showed. DXB handled 86.9 million passengers in 2023, a 31.7 per cent increase on the previous year.

Dubai alsorecorded its best-ever annual tourism performance in 2023, with international tourist arrivals to the emirate increasing by 19.4 per cent annually to 17.15 million, according to government data.

The WTTC's 2024 outlook comes as the UAE's travel and tourism sectors grew by more than a quarter last year. They contributed a record-breaking Dh220 billion to the UAE’s GDP, or 11.7 per cent of the economy, according to the latest WTTC data.

The sectors' economic contribution in 2023 grew 26.4 per cent year-on-year and 14.3 per cent on 2019 levels, the WTTC said.

Last year, the number of travel and tourism jobs in the UAE grew 5.3 per cent to 809,300, representing one in nine jobs in the country.

After the UAE travel and tourism jobs that were lost during the Covid pandemic in 2020 were fully recovered in 2022, the sector jobs have increased 11 per cent in 2023 compared to 2019 levels.

Domestic visitor spending in the UAE fully recovered in 2022 and grew 8.9 per cent last year to reach Dh55.6 billion. This is 38.2 per cent higher than 2019.

International visitor spending surged by 39.3 per cent in 2023 to reach Dh175.2 billion, which is 12.1 per cent above 2019 levels, as the UAE continued to develop as a global tourism destination, the WTTC said.

A decade of growth

Over the next decade, the UAE's travel and tourism industry is projected to employ more than 928,000 people across the country, with one in nine residents working in the sector, the report said.

The sector will grow its annual GDP contribution to more than Dh275 billion by 2034, representing about 11 per cent of the UAE economy, it said.

The UAE’s economy has continued to expand amid government initiatives to diversify away from oil with an emphasis on growing priority sectors such as manufacturing, tourism and technology.

The UAE Central Bank has increased its 2024 growth forecast for the country's economy to 5.7 per cent, from 4.3 per cent previously, it said in December.

Middle East tourism outlook

Meanwhile in the Middle East, the WTTC expects travel and tourism sector's GDP contribution is set to reach $507 billion in 2024.

The Israel-Gaza war is a "terrible human tragedy", and in terms of its impact on tourism-dependent economies, it has most affected Palestine and Israel as they are directly involved, and countries immediately surrounding the conflict zone such as Jordan, Ms Simpson said.

"The conflict is a terrible tragedy. In tourism terms, it hasn’t spread around the Middle East. There are strong tourism numbers in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman. Egypt is also doing well."

Countries outside the immediate zone of the conflict are not included in travel advisories and airlines are maintaining strong flight connections, which are giving travellers confidence to visit the region, she said.

Asked about the impact of escalating geopolitical tensions between Israel and Iran on regional tourism, Ms Simpson said the situation is "not dampening desire for people to visit the broader region" but that it is "something to keep an eye on".

The proposed single GCC tourism visa is "a smart move" that will allow smooth travel between the six-country bloc and help boost tourism numbers, Ms Simpson said, comparing it to the success of the Schengen visa in Europe.

"That visa facilitation will be very positive," she said.

Sector jobs in the region are forecast to reach 8.3 million, international visitor spending is projected to stand at $198 billion and domestic visitor spending is expected to hit more than $224 billion, the WTTC said.

This comes despite the Israel war in Gaza approaching 200 days on April 24, with devastating humanitarian and economic impact in Palestine. Israel's bombing has killed more than 38,899 Palestinians, displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents and razed large areas of the enclave.

Geopolitical tensions further increased after Iran attacked Israel on Saturday in retaliation for the Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, on April 1. Israel said it has decided to respond to the Iranian attack.

The Middle East and Central Asia's economy is forecast to grow 2.8 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund's latest report in April. This is a slight downwards revision from the fund's January expectation.

The Mena region's GDP is forecast to rise to 2.7 per cent in 2024, a “tepid” increase from 1.9 per cent in 2023, the World Bank said in its April report.

Updated: April 18, 2024, 12:10 PM