The accolade, which was announced during the UNWTO General Assembly in Uzbekistan on Thursday, recognises destinations that are leading the way in nurturing rural areas and preserving landscapes, cultural diversity, local values and culinary traditions, the UN body stated.
This year, the list includes the ancient Nabataean city of Sela in Jordan's mountains, the scorpion-shaped Douma in Lebanon's district of Batroun, and Egyptian villages Dahshour – home to two of the country's oldest and best-preserved pyramids – and the oasis of Siwa, in Egypt's western desert.
Other countries with villages on the list span from Japan to Chile and Switzerland to Ethiopia.
“Tourism can be a powerful force for inclusivity, empowering local communities and distributing benefits across regions,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “This initiative acknowledges villages that have harnessed tourism as a catalyst for their development and well-being.”
This is the third year for the initiative, which is part of the UNWTO Tourism for Rural Development Programme, and it includes a list of 54 villages from all regions that were selected from almost 260 applications. The programme aims to foster development and inclusion in rural areas, while combating depopulation, advancing innovation and encouraging sustainable practices.
The villages are evaluated under nine areas, including cultural and natural resources, tourism development, infrastructure and connectivity, health and security, and environmental, economic and social sustainability.
Another 20 have been added to the Upgrade Programme, which supports each location to meet recognition criteria and helps identify gaps during evaluation. Middle Eastern and Arab villages on this list include Kale Ucagiz and Kemaliye in Turkiye, Kfar Masaryk in Israel, Ounagha in Morocco and Saint Catherine in Egypt.
All 74 villages are now part of the Best Tourism Villages Network, which the organisation describes as a space for exchanging experiences, good practices, learning and opportunities among its members. Overall, 190 villages are now part of the network.
Last year, AlUla's ancient Old Town and the hilltop Umm Qais were among the winners.
In Saudi Arabia, the Old Town of AlUla was once an important settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Makkah. Reopened last year after extensive reconstruction, travellers can wander through its mazelike remnants of original stone and mud brick buildings and visit AlUla Castle, which dates back to the 10th century.
In the north of Jordan, about two hours from Amman, the 200-year-old village of Umm Qais is best known for its ancient Ottoman-era streets, breathtaking views over the Jordan Valley and nearby Roman ruins of Gadara. King Charles III visited the region during his Middle East tour last year.
A call for submissions for next year's list will take place in the first few months of 2024.