Middle East Tourism Ministers to come together in landmark session to debate future of the region’s tourism agenda

16 Nov 2011

Success of UNWTO Ministers’ Summit at WTM provides catalyst for ATM forum to focus on strategies to drive regions tourism industry

Arabian Travel Market (ATM) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have revealed that Middle East Tourism Ministers will, for the first time, come together at ATM 2012 for a special session that will focus on driving the region’s tourism agenda.

Scheduled to take place on 30 April, the first day of the show, the high profile forum will pick up on feedback from regional tourism leaders, which highlighted increased co-operation and the expansion of tourism products as key drivers for future tourism growth.

“The ongoing changes in the Middle East and North Africa bring enormous opportunities,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

“Rule of law and democracy will empower local communities, opening the door for these to be better engaged in the process of tourism development. There will surely be a more transparent business environment, increased support for smaller businesses as well as stronger regional integration and cooperation,” he continued.

“Our decision to invite the region’s tourism ministers was spurred not only by the wave of positive sentiment felt across the industry as the first signs of post Arab Spring democracy have emerged, but by the points raised at the UNWTO/ATM session at the WTM,” remarked Mark Walsh, Group Exhibition Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.

Misperception was highlighted as one of the most pressing challenges, with participants stressing that the Middle East should not be viewed as a single block, but rather as different countries with different realities and definitions.

For Egypt, where tourism numbers this year are expected to have fallen by between 20 and 25 per cent compared to 2010, Minister of Tourism, HE Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, said the country was committed to tourism as an industry which contributed 12 per cent to national GDP.

“In order to execute our development plans, we need to diversify source markets as well as add new products such as rehabilitation and wellness tourism, desert and adventure tourism,” he said.

According to UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, despite the setback in visitor arrival figures due to the ongoing events of the Arab Spring, with a nine per cent decrease in tourism growth in the Middle East year-to-date, the UNWTO was forecasting the resumption of growth in the medium and long term.

“Tourism in the Middle East and Africa has been a success story – rising from just 18 million visitors in 1990 to more than 70 million last year. Looking to the future, we believe that this figure will grow to 195 million visitors by 2030, with the new political climate bringing tourism closer to the people as well as creating a healthier business environment and fostering regional integration which is an important element to promote sustainable tourism,” he said.

“We expect that the UNWTO and ATM forum will have a significant and positive effect on regional collaboration to sustain growth in the travel and tourism sector here,” added Reed Travel Exhibitions’ Walsh.

Bringing the panel session to an end, Rifai concluded: “The Arab Spring has had an effect on the whole world of travel, and while we are passing through difficult times, they are also exciting times as tourism is the oil that never runs out.”

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