With less than 8% of the world’s intake of tourists region has outstanding growth potential - co-operation, training and product diversification in focus at inaugural UNWTO & ATM regional tourism summit.
Despite events of the Arab Spring, and potential uncertainty in the wake of austerity measures in key source European markets, there is a bright future ahead for tourism in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a consensus of delegates at the first United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and Arabian Travel Market industry forum.
The summit, which took place at Arabian Travel Market on Monday, is now set to become an annual fixture that brings together both government and private sector officials to seek common goals and mutual benefits from the promotion of travel in to the region.
Speaking at the forum, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, called the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region a “tourism success story in the first decade of the 21st century”, with the majority of markets already showing a strong rebound following the challenges of the last 12 months.
Rifai also shared some insight into the regional situation and gave a positive prognosis for the future. “We are very impressed by the rate of recovery of some of the most affected countries in the region. Countries that were directly affected, like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen, saw a downturn of 80 to 85% as political events unfolded, but minimised their losses considerably in 2011, closing the year down by 25 to 30%.”
“The potential for growth is still excellent as we are starting from a low nominal base in the region. Even with 79 to 80 million tourist arrivals, the region has less than 8% of the world’s intake of tourists, which currently stands at almost one billion. The MENA region deserves much more,” he added. While UNWTO statistics recorded the loss of an estimated seven million tourists across the region last year, the organisation is projecting a seven per cent annual growth rate over the next 20 years with visitor totals hitting 195 million by 2030, up from 79 million in 2010.
Setting an optimistic tone, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, HE Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said first quarter visitor figures indicated the country was on the right track to return to the level of 2010 numbers by the end of the year, following a downturn of 33% in 2011.
Tarak Labib, Regional Director of Sales Egypt, Hilton Worldwide, said, “The local market was a saviour for our resorts, and we were already seeing business come back by the end of March/early April,” he said. Leanne Harwood, Vice President of Commercial for India, Middle East and Africa, InterContinental Hotel Group, took a more cautious stance, and noted that until “Egypt stops being on the front page, it’s difficult to see some stability but we’ve seen losses drop to 30% from 80%, so [the market is] definitely rebounding.”
Jordan Tourist Board director, Dr Abdelrazzak Arabiyat proposed joint marketing and packages. “In order to capitalise on long haul markets, we believe we have to combine packages with neighbours to offer Dubai and Jordan, Egypt and Jordan, Oman and Jordan,” he said.
His view was echoed by the minister of tourism for Oman, Her Excellency Maitha Al Mahrouqi who said, “Oman has its own elements, but we can work with others to package together, as well as increasing visa co-operation.”
Looking ahead, Rifai identified certain destinations as ‘ones to watch’. “There are a number of attractive untouched destinations that need a lot of investment, such as Libya and Algeria. These are sleeping giants” he said.
According to Reed Travel Exhibitions’ Portfolio Director, Mark Walsh, the summit was set to become an essential forum for regional issues facing the travel and tourism sector.
“While every destination has its priorities and strategies, there is a common goal to promote the region and we are delighted at the level of participation in this inaugural event which demonstrates a will to work together at all levels,” he concluded.
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About Arabian Travel Market
Arabian Travel Market 2011 boasted more than 2,200 exhibitors and stand-sharers, from 69 countries. Arabian Travel Market is part of the Reed Travel Exhibitions’ portfolio, which includes 15 of the world’s leading travel industry events. For more information visit www.arabiantravelmarket.com
Reed Travel Exhibitions
Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE) is the world’s leading provider of exhibitions in the travel and tourism industry. Its wide-ranging portfolio of events around the globe covers leisure travel, luxury travel, business travel and the meetings and incentives industry. The 13 events are; World Travel Market (WTM), Arabian Travel Market (ATM), International French Travel Market (IFTM), La Cumbre, International Golf Travel Market (IGTM), International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM), International Luxury Travel Market Asia (ILTMA), Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo (AIME) (owned by Melbourne Convention Visitors Bureau), Global Exhibition for Incentive, Business Travel, and Meetings (EIBTM), Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings (GIBTM), Americas Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings (AIBTM), China Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings (CIBTM) and Business Travel Market. April 2013 will see RTE will launch World Travel Market Latin America in São Paulo. RTE is a business unit of Reed Exhibitions. In 2011, six million participants attended RE’s 500 events in 39 countries covering 44 industry sectors from aerospace and aviation to beauty and cosmetics to sports and recreation.
Reed Exhibitions is owned by Reed Elsevier, the world’s leading provider of professional information and online workflow solutions. www.reedtravelexhibitions.com
The world's leading organiser of trade and consumer events running over 470 events in 37 countries. Reed Exhibitions excels in creating high profile, highly targeted business and consumer exhibitions and events to establish and maintain business relations, and generate new business. Reed Exhibitions network of offices and promoters extends to 65 countries. www.reedexpo.com
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