Industry experts gathered in Dubai this week to discuss burning issues about the tourism market at a leading travel and tourism event.
Sessions at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2017 dealt with the future of tourism, electronics ban and experiential travel. Overall, the consensus was that GCC countries must highlight their rich cultural offerings along with the latest attractions to maximise their tourism potential.
Currently, there are 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites within the GCC, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia seeking new listings. There are dedicated cultural villages such as Katara Cultural Village (Qatar), Saadiyat Island Cultural District (Abu Dhabi) and Sharjah Cultural Palace.
Also, there are numerous religious sites, such as Masjid-Al- Haram (Makkah) and Sheikh Zayed Mosque (Abu Dhabi).
Here are the six most important travel trends from the event:
Selling an experience is the main focus
Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, revealed that Dubai welcomed 4.57 million visitors in Q1 2017, an 11 per cent increase over the same period last year.
He said: “We have focused a lot on highlighting the key propositions that already existed in Dubai, that not many people are familiar with, things that residents and locals took for granted.”
“While we were showcasing the new developments in Dubai, such as the theme parks, the shopping malls and the Burj Khalifa, which were great to position us globally, the older parts – the souks, the abras, the spice and textile markets – those experiences are quite unique and the more we started taking travellers to these areas, we realised that the depth of Dubai’s offerings become much more relevant,” he explained.
Social media is crucial
Everyone agreed that the social media revolution was also important to sell local experiences, along with the role bloggers and influencers now play in attracting travellers, as well as campaigns such as #MyDubai and the award-winning Visit Abu Dhabi app, which is available in ten languages.
Andy Levey, Head of Marketing at La Perle by Dragone, said: “Everyone has a phone or a tablet, everyone is a publisher, everyone is a media company, whether they have 500 Facebook followers or a million snapchat fans. It’s an efficient and easy way to really publish what’s going on.”
He added: “Just because you’re sharing something, it doesn’t steal from the experience. It only whets the appetite for people to want more. It’s about what you want to convey to people that you really can’t convey in words or in a sentence and that’s where these mediums are so valuable.”
Saif Saeed Ghobash, Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, said: “A very important part of our success is having that well-educated, well-rounded Emirati, who can converse in many languages, who is a good ambassador, who can tell you everything about the destination. The person sitting with you in that car or walking around with you is the person who makes or breaks your experience. That’s not technology; that’s simply investment in training.”
Simon Mead, Manager-Operations, Arabian Adventures-Destination Management Company of the Emirates Group, said: “We’ve got a lot more experiences to offer families. We’re finding that families will combine cultural experiences by both going into the desert in the morning and seeing how Bedouins fly the falcons, or visit museums. And they will combine those cultural experiences with the wonderful and the modern that you can experience throughout the MENA region.”
Tourism sector requires regional cooperation
Tourism can be a key driver of the growth and economic diversification for the Middle East and North Africa region, concluded the 2017 Ministerial Forum organised by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Arabian Travel Market (ATM).
Yet, maximising the power of the sector requires increased regional cooperation, prioritisation of tourism in the national agendas and building resilience and sustainability.
Repeat travellers need to be engaged
Moderated by CNN’s Becky Anderson, the UNWTO/ATM Ministerial Forum concluded that the main priorities for the region include human resources development, public/private sector cooperation connectivity, technology and sustainability.
Issues highlighted included the development of domestic tourism by engaging repeat travellers, the support to innovation and entrepreneurship, the need to improve the quality and ‘perception’ of tourism employment, visa facilitation, intra-regional connectivity and the measurement of tourism’s impact through the recently launched UNWTO Initiative on Measuring Sustainable Tourism (MST).
Participants further recalled that much of the growth of the sector comes from the high level of support at policy level it receives from many countries in the region as a tool to diversify oil-based economies.
Tourism is a top priority for governments
Mohammed Khamis Al Muhairi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Economy, UAE, said that tourism has proven to be one of the main pillars of economic and social development in various countries.
He pointed out that the MENA region has strong potential to become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations due to its extensive tourism attractions.
He said: “Tourism is a top priority under the development policies of the UAE. The sector contributes 12.1 per cent to the national GDP and accounts for around 10.4 per cent of the domestic labour market”.
“Investments to the sector exceeded AED26bn in 2016, a year which saw the number of visitors to the UAE reaching 24.8 million with total spend of about AED110 billion”, he added.
MENA is tourism sector’s biggest success story
UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said: “Despite all external shocks, the Middle East and North Africa tell one of tourism’s biggest success stories. It is a story that brings an immense opportunity to make tourism a pillar of economic diversification, job creation and sustainable development in this region.”
“Today’s meeting is an opportunity to identify the priorities of tourism policy for the MENA destinations, and prepare the region to welcome the 195m international tourist arrivals – almost triple the present volume of 72m – forecast by UNWTO for 2030,” he added.
The Middle East received 53.6m international tourist arrivals in 2016. Arrivals decreased an estimated four per cent with very mixed results among the region’s destinations. International tourist arrivals to North Africa grew by three per cent to 18.6m.