As we head towards the end of 2022, it is useful to examine the efforts and happenings that carried us through this year. They are motivators to keep the region on track, brainstorm and plan for coming phases so the region can keep moving upwards and nations can continue working towards long-term visions, while adapting to the global political and business climate.
Owing to highly effective mitigation of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising oil prices, along with decades’ worth of efforts towards economic diversification, GCC economies are expected to show an average of 6.9 per cent growth in 2022, according to the World Bank. This has undoubtedly helped instill confidence in individuals and businesses in the Gulf region, and also garnered interest from investors from around the globe.
This past year global travel numbers rose following post-pandemic restrictions, which helped recharge tourism. According to the UN World Travel Organisation, the first quarter of 2022 alone saw a 182 per cent growth in GCC airport arrivals compared to the same period in 2021, 117 million up from 41 million.
Most recently, Qatar hosted the highly anticipated Fifa World Cup, arguably the most revered sporting and entertainment event in the world. Not only did the tournament attract over a million viewers to attend the matches in person, but sports fans around the globe got to see the Gulf region in a new light, as Arab hospitality, sporting and the entrepreneurial spirit were showcased leading up to and during the tournament.
It was exciting to see three Arab countries, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, play the tournament, and sports fans around the world especially enjoyed cheering on the Moroccan team, who played an outstanding game to become the first Arab and African country to make it to the cup semi-finals. Their journey in the tournament unified Arabs, Africans and fans from various nations in a much-needed bonding experience that helped boost morale and renew an interest in sports and entertainment.
Morocco’s successful and record-breaking run is proof of the natural talent and passion Arabs have for sports and it must serve as an inspiration for other teams in the region to work towards their qualification for the next Fifa World Cup tournament.
Furthermore, the tournament contributed to an increase in travel to neighbouring countries so the whole region benefited from a higher influx of tourists and the opportunity to engage with them. The Sultanate of Oman, for example, recorded an increase of 93 per cent in travel bookings for November and December.
I have always been a firm believer in the limitless potential of Gulf countries in the realms of both global and regional tourism. The region’s tourism industries have grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades and have been key drivers of economic diversification and growth. We cannot doubt that they suffered following the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there is no better time than now to channel more resources and help the sectors grow to their full potential in coming years.
While the collective bounce back this past year has instilled a sense of confidence and much-needed hope following a challenging period, we must move forward with caution. A global slowdown is expected in 2023, with the IMF forecasting it to be the slowest year for overall GDP growth around the globe since 2009 with the exception of 2020.
The outlook for GCC countries is better compared to most other nations, largely due to oil revenues and an ease in inflation, but I also see that as a reminder that we must channel more resources into non-oil sectors, especially service-centred industries such as tourism and fields like technology, where there is still plenty of room for innovation and expansion.
Investments in non-oil sectors will also feed into goals around climate change. There has been significant progress in the area of renewable energy but there is still more to be done in the way of reducing carbon emissions and making our region greener and cleaner. We cannot doubt that we have a complex series of hurdles at hand. But it is clear that we are better placed than ever before as a region, as national and cross-border communities, to face challenges together and address them with the support of our networks that comprise multi-talented individuals who are committed to a common goal of sustainable and long-term growth.
Together we have weathered sudden and unexpected changes with the support of our wise leaders and resourceful communities. These are the pillars that will hold our nations through coming phases and will always be key drivers of growth and success in the region.