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Americans ‘openly exploring travel destinations in the Middle East’

If you’ve missed some of your travel plans for summer and you still have leave to avail, the Middle East may be a good destination choice.

“Americans are shifting the conversation from apprehension to understanding and are openly exploring destinations in the Middle East, where tourism is booming Jamee Lubkemann, Vice President at American Express Travel, told Travel Weekly.

Likewise, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reveals that most of 2016’s strong performers maintained momentum, while destinations that struggled in previous years continued to rebound in the first part of 2017.

“This is especially reflected in the better results of the Middle East (+10 per cent), Africa (+8 per cent) and Europe (+6 per cent). Asia and the Pacific (+6 per cent) and the Americas (+4 per cent) continued to enjoy robust growth,” it said.

“Destinations that were affected by negative events during 2016 are showing clear signs of recovery in a very short period of time, and this is very welcoming news for all, but particularly for those whose livelihoods depend on tourism in these destinations”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

But why is the Middle East becoming an attractive travel destination?

Read: UAE tourism and travel spending to exceed $56 billion by 2022

Middle East recovery

In the Middle East, Lebanon and Egypt have made remarkable improvements when it comes to perceptions related to terrorism, according to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 released by the World Economic Forum.

Moreover, countries such as Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar rank among the ten safest economies globally, with little terrorism incidence.

WEF added that United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia fared well on the levels of business environment, ICT readiness and the quality of infrastructure.

WEF noted that Bahrain, Iran, Morocco and Algeria significantly improved their security, while Saudi Arabia registered the largest regional improvement in health and hygiene. Similarly, countries such as Egypt and Kuwait have increased Travel & Tourism sector prioritization.

Moreover, Egypt, Oman, and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia have significantly upgraded their cultural resources more than the regional average, while Bahrain and Tunisia have proceeded faster towards openness, compared to other countries in the area.

Spending within the UAE’s travel and tourism sector is expected to steadily rise over the next five years and reach more than $56 billion in 2022, according to a new report.

A new analysis conducted by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that new mega projects coming to market would drive the growth.
The analysis, based on data from Business Monitor International (BMI) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), revealed that the total spending in the sector was predicted to increase by 4.5 per cent year-on-year in 2017 to reach more than $42 billion.
Dubai Chamber said that growth within the UAE’s travel market would likely be supported by several recently announced projects, including Marsa Al Arab, a $1.7 billion mega tourist resort near the Burj Al Arab, the new IMG Worlds of Legends theme park and many others.

As for Saudi Arabia, it has allocated billions of dollars to achieve its Saudi Vision 2030, aiming to boost the Kingdom’s hospitality industry.

Reforms of visa issuance and development of historic heritage sites are designed to help achieve these goals.

Read: Top 10 holiday destinations for MENA travellers

In September, the Public Investment Fund announced that it was setting up a $2.7bn company to invest in entertainment.

AMEinfo reported on this, noting that the venture is targeting more than 50 million visitors per year and more than 22,000 jobs and looking to contribute SAR8bn (AED7.92bn) to the kingdom’s GDP by end-2030.

“The PIF will lead investment in a project to redevelop Jeddah’s waterfront corniche into a mixed-use area at a price tag of 18bn Saudi riyals (AED17.62bn),” the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Despite the improvements recorded in some Middle Eastern countries, more should be done to develop tourism in this part of the region.

How should the ME improve?

The World Economic Forum issued recommendations for some countries in the Middle East.

According to WEF, the UAE should focus on becoming more open, expanding its health facilities and making better use of its natural resources. While the UAE has significantly developed certain segments of cultural tourism, including international conferences and car racing, natural tourism remains an untapped resource for the country.

Jordan, it added, should upgrade its air and ground transport infrastructure and focus on its natural and cultural resources, which remain substantially undervalued.

As for Tunisia, the WEF noted that its natural resources were not sufficiently valued.

“To date, only one site appears on the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list, and the digital demand for tourism related to nature is low, indicating an insufficient value proposition,” it said.

Both ground and air infrastructure are less efficient than they should be, with fewer companies flying directly to Tunisia, which leads to lower international arrivals, it added.

“Yet the main bottlenecks to development are low safety and security, with terrorism emerging as a destabilizing force, which in turn has led to high costs on business, and an extremely rigid and uncompetitive labour market.”

Read: 6 important travel and tourism trends in the GCC