Travel and tourism sector to contribute $49bn to UAE’s economy this year, WTTC says

The industry is expected to create 7,000 new jobs in Emirates

Kite surfers in action at the Kite and Surf beach in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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The travel and tourism sector is projected to contribute Dh180.6 billion ($49.18 billion) to the UAE’s economy this year, representing nearly 10 per cent of the total, says the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The estimate for 2023 is only 1.6 per cent lower than the 2019 high of Dh183.4 billion, the global tourism body said in itslatest Economic Impact report on Wednesday.

WTTC expects the sector to cross the pre-pandemic employment levels, reaching more than 758,000 jobs, including nearly 7,000 new positions, this year.

“The sector is recovering at a rapid pace, proving the UAE continues to grow in popularity amongst international travellers,” said Julia Simpson, WTTC president and chief executive.

“The UAE is home to one of the world’s busiest and most successful airports, Dubai International, which acts as a gateway to the Middle East.”

Last year, the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the UAE’s gross domestic product grew by more than 60 per cent to reach nearly Dh167 billion, representing 9 per cent of the country’s economy, WTTC said.

The sector created more than 89,000 jobs last year, bringing the total to about 751,000 on a countrywide level.

“2022 saw the return of international travellers to the UAE, with India, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UK leading as source markets for international arrivals,” the report said.

Last year, international visitors contributed Dh117.6 billion to the Emirates' economy, marking a 65.3 per cent year-on-year growth, but still down 19 per cent from 2019 levels.

Meanwhile, domestic spend surged by nearly 36 per cent to reach Dh46.9 billion, up 10.6 per cent from pre-pandemic levels.

“The future for the sector looks positive. By the end of this year, the sector’s contribution will level that of 2019, and over the next decade, growth will outstrip the national GDP and create more than 114,000 new jobs, representing one in nine jobs,” said Ms Simpson.

Dubai International Airport remained the world's busiest international hub for passengers last year for the ninth year in a row, as long-haul travel demand surged, rankings by the Airports Council International showed in April.

The tourism sector, an important pillar of Dubai’s economy, has strongly rebounded from the coronavirus-induced slowdown.

The emirate recorded 14.36 million international visitors in 2022, inching closer to the 16.73 million tourists welcomed in 2019, according to data from the Department of Economy and Tourism.

It aims to exceed the pre-pandemic annual number of international visitors this year, after the emirate recorded a 17 per cent increase in the tourist numbers in the first quarter of 2023, Issam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Department for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, told The National earlier this month.

“Our report highlighted the appeal tourist destinations across the country, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, continue to hold for international travellers. These cities have shown an incredible resilience and strong leadership,” said Ms Simpson.

The WTTC expects the sector to grow its GDP contribution to Dh235.5 billion by 2033, representing 10.2 per cent of the country’s economy.

Over the next decade, the travel and tourism industry is projected to give employment to more than 872,000 people in the UAE, accounting for about 12 per cent of the total workforce, the WTTC said.

The UAE, the Arab world’s second-largest economy, is estimated to have grown by 7.6 per cent last year, marking its highest expansion in 11 years, after GDP rose by 3.9 per cent in 2021, according to the UAE Central Bank.

It is expected to grow by 3.9 per cent this year and accelerate further to 4.3 per cent in 2024.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, the WTTC expects travel and tourism sector's GDP contribution to exceed Dh1.5 trillion, nearing the 2019 high.

The sector will recover almost all of the jobs lost during the pandemic by the end of 2023, the report said.

In the Mena region, real GDP grew by 5.3 per cent in 2022, reflecting strong domestic demand and a rebound in oil production, according to the International Monetary Fund. However, growth is expected to decelerate this year to 3.1 per cent before picking up slightly to 3.4 per cent next year.

Updated: May 17, 2023, 8:31 AM