In the past couple of decades, countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have channeled resources to diversify their economies and reduce their reliance on oil. I have always stressed the importance of tourism when it comes to the growth of countries in the region. The industry can evolve with the times and drive economic targets.
The world is now recovering from the fallout from Covid-19. According to a report published by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), tourism is one of the sectors that has suffered the worst of the pandemic, with an 84 per cent decline in international arrivals between March and December 2020. WTO estimates that economic losses in the industry could reach up to $4 trillion in 2021.
We must also consider that the past two years have been stressful for most, if not all, people across the world. Many people would be looking for accessible travel and recreational experiences. There is an opportunity to deliver packages that address this demand and help uplift spirits of travellers who have been limited by restrictions and demands of the pandemic.
Many countries in the GCC are on their way to restart tourism, as the UAE and Oman have begun allowing travellers from all parts of the world, provided they have been fully vaccinated. Hopefully other countries will follow suit. The Gulf countries are uniquely placed, bridging East and West. The region has made enormous progress and boasts rich culture and heritage, along with plenty of tourist attractions to suit every age and interest.
One lesson from the pandemic is to innovate and adapt quickly to changing times. In the context of tourism, this could give rise to ideas that could help grow the industry and spearhead change.
Financial institutions in the Middle East must take advantage of the potential of the tourism industry and offer support to service providers to invest in resources, which would subsequently contribute towards growth. Players within the travel and tourism sectors can form regional partnerships to tailor packages that suit today’s traveller.
The tech industry also benefits through collaborations with travel providers. The pandemic has led more travellers to virtual reality experiences. Countries like Germany and the Maldives have begun offering a series of virtual experiences to those unable to travel.
Now that a large percentage of the world’s population has been vaccinated and open to overseas travel, virtual reality options can be brought to airports and hotels for tourists who want to see it all but have limited days or other constraints. This will be especially useful for business travellers and transit passengers, who may not have enough time to visit attractions in person.
Collaborations with players outside the region, adoption of best practices from across the globe and targeted marketing campaigns to promote experiences the Gulf can contribute to tourist traffic.
Of course, we must not discount the region’s popularity as a destination for industry and trade events, especially given the launch of Expo 2020 Dubai. Businesses from several countries across various sectors are gathering to partner with others who have also suffered the fall-out of the pandemic.
The theme of "Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability" is very pertinent to our times and is a golden opportunity for nations in the GCC and the wider Arab region to demonstrate strengths and opportunities to potential partners.
The Oman pavilion is inspired by our nation’s iconic frankincense tree, or the luban in Arabic, and showcases the Sultanate’s socio-economic journey, inviting guests to learn from and engage with Omanis, who are keen to share their history, achievements and aspirations.
I am also proud to share that Investcorp, a leading global asset management firm, where I serve as executive chairman, is present at the Expo 2020 Dubai, offering opportunities for investors looking for asset managers with a nuanced understanding of the Arab region.
I anticipate many fruitful conversations, ideas and business deals coming out of Expo 2020 Dubai. It would be an excellent opportunity and in keeping with the theme for attendees in our region to brainstorm with representatives of tourism sectors in the GCC, network and use this platform to learn more about best practices from across the globe.
Recent times have presented challenges not witnessed earlier. Leaders in our region, however, have responded well to the pandemic and it is now time for citizens, public and private organisations to work towards a sustainable recovery.
The GCC has many jewels in its crown that make for an enriching tourism experience – from natural beauty and rich heritage to world-class resorts and attractions. If we pool the best of our resources we can respond to market needs and develop solutions that catalyse growth in tourism and strengthen our economies.