Tourism will be key to GCC's long-term economic growth

This will depend on collaboration between the Gulf countries' travel and tourism sectors

People attend the fountain show in downtown Dubai. AFP
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Following a series of world events that have reset and in many ways permanently transformed the outlook of individuals, organisations and governments, it is important to adapt our economic goals and align our strengths in order to generate the most favourable outcomes.

GCC countries have started their journey to economic recovery but the region has ways to go in terms of getting on track towards long-term goals.

Our region has fared well in diversifying its economic interests and is far less reliant on the oil industry now that other sectors have been brought to the forefront. One area where I see the most potential for growth is tourism, which heavily relies on what I have always believed is our greatest asset and strength – our people.

Considering the significant hit global travel took with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were expecting a sudden surge in travel this year following the implementation of vaccination programmes and heightened safety measures across the world. The first quarter of 2022 showed a 182 per cent growth in arrivals compared to the same period last year, from 41 million to an estimated 117 million, according to UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

Numbers will only rise as we go on, since people across the globe are eager to travel for both business and leisure following an extended halt.

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We have maintained unity as a region in the face of adversity

There truly is no better time than now for GCC countries to expand on their long-term plans to grow their tourism sectors, and I believe starting local is key.

According to the UNWTO, travellers from the GCC spend 6.5 times more than travellers from other parts of the world. Tourist operators within the region have an excellent opportunity to hone their offerings to suit regional travellers’ tastes and potentially grow their profits.

Perhaps research can help determine what regional travellers look for while visiting countries abroad and packages can be tailored to those preferences, with a variety of targeted deals and offers.

Furthermore, governments can incentivise businesses in the tourism sector, and financial institutions can offer special lending rates that will encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to set up shop or grow existing businesses vertically or laterally to cater to tourists.

There is plenty of room to collaborate regionally and offer experiences that travellers are looking for.

On an international level, there is also an opportunity to market the individual offerings of various nations in the region so global travellers are keen to see just how diverse the Gulf is.

Cross-border collaboration can go a long way in terms of growing regional tourism, and I encourage established and aspiring business owners to connect and brainstorm ideas that will help take the industry to its maximum potential.

Nations within the region can align their objectives and provide travellers with incentives to visit more than one country in a single go. Various organisations that comprise frameworks from airports to public transit and leisure operators that tourists rely on can create synergy and deliver experiences that allow travellers ease in experiencing the diverse offerings our region boasts, borders no bar.

The Arabian Travel Market fair in Dubai in May. EPA

One of the most effective approaches to expanding the tourism sector is to help businesses that do not necessarily target tourists identify how their offerings can be tailored or expanded in order to grow vertically. Existing tourism operators and market leaders can create networks engaging other businesses in order to nurture collaboration within the region, which will result in revenue growth for all.

Citizens in the region must also be committed to the national visions that aim for growth of tourist sectors. The Arab culture is world-famous for its warm hospitality – a crucial aspect that draws travellers to the region again and again – and we must continue to share the best of our heritage with our guests from neighbouring countries and across the world.

The GCC region, and the world at large, is coming out of a prolonged and complex phase and still has a series of challenges to work through.

However, there is hope yet – we have built on our strengths in the past and maintained unity as a region in the face of adversity. We have the support of fast-acting governments that have responded exceptionally well during unprecedented crises that have struck the world, and citizens whose commitment, talent and dedication to community is unparalleled.

I do not doubt that our region will see better days in terms of economic recovery, and I strongly believe that our tourism sectors will play a key role in leading us forward.

Published: July 20, 2022, 9:00 AM
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