Global co-ordination needed to establish more travel corridors, UAE minister says

Developing domestic tourism should be a priority to spur global economic recovery, Ahmad Al Falasi says

His Excellency Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) at the first day of the 2021 Arabian Travel Market exhibition at the World Trade Center in Dubai on May 16 th, 2021. 
Antonie Robertson / The National.
Reporter: Sarmad Khan for National.
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Tourism authorities across the globe should do more to develop domestic tourism and co-ordinate closely to open more travel corridors to revive international tourism, the UAE's minister of state for entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises said.

These steps are “critical as we collectively claw our way back out of the crisis”, Ahmad Al Falasi told a panel discussion at the Arabian Travel Market on Sunday.

“The sub-sector [of domestic tourism] has proven to be essential in ensuring the resilience of the [overall] tourism sector in the face of volatile and uncertain conditions”, he said, adding that collaboration between regional and international tourism bodies is key to establishing more travel corridors.

The UAE, the Middle East’s business and travel hub, is establishing secure travel links with international and regional partners to revive its tourism sector in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which last year pushed the global economy into its worst recession since the 1930s.

Despite the severe disruption to the travel and tourism sector, the UAE has fared relatively better than some of its regional and international peers.

The UAE recorded the world's second-highest hotel occupancy rate due to government efforts to contain the spread of the virus and encourage domestic tourism. The country hosted 14.8 million guests who spent an average of 3.7 nights at 1,089 establishments last year to achieve a hotel occupancy rate of 54.7 per cent, according to World Tourism Organisation and Emirates Tourism Council data released in April.

This outpaced the global average occupancy rate of 37 per cent and the Middle East’s 43 per cent.

The UAE has already established travel corridors with four countries this month, allowing vaccinated residents to visit Greece, Serbia, Seychelles and Bahrain with no quarantine requirements upon arrival.

However, “there is still a lot of work to be done” to ensure a complete recovery of a sector that accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, Mr Al Falasi said.

“We are not completely out of the woods yet. Covid-19 continues to hammer the tourism sector in 2021,” he added.

Bahrain is also looking to establish more international tourism links, Zayed Al Zayani, the kingdom’s minister of industry, commerce and tourism told reporters after the panel discussion.

“It is something we support, we encourage and we would like to have more, but it takes another partner on the other end to start a corridor," Mr Al Zayani said.

“We are open to anybody,” he added when asked with which nations it wanted to establish links with.

Mr Al Zayani, who is also the head of Bahrain’s national carrier Gulf Air, said the airline has reached deals with plane makers Boeing and Airbus to delay deliveries of aircraft.

Gulf Air received three jets last year and it is due to receive six more this year, but other deliveries scheduled for 2020 have been delayed by six-to-nine months, he said.

In terms of the outlook for aviation, Mr Al Zayani said it is currently difficult to gauge the pace of recovery.

“We have the fleet, we have the crew and we like to fly to as many places as we can, but we have to factor in demand,” he said. “It’s a fluid situation and every week things change.”