The Middle East – a tourism success story like no other

Gemma Greenwood

World Tourism Day is a UNWTO initiative designed to promote the importance of tourism its social, cultural, political and economic value and this multi-dimensional impact is evident in the Middle East where the Gulf states in particular have leveraged this industry’s potential.

Of the more than 1.1 billion global tourists who travelled overseas in 2014, more than 50 million of them visited the Middle East.
This was two million more than in 2013 representing a 4% year-on-year increase, according to the UNWTO.

In 2015 the upward trend has continued with the Middle East reporting a 4% hike in tourism arrivals for the first four months of year (January to April), compared to the same period in 2014, with similar growth levels anticipated until year end.

By 2030, when more than 1.8 billion tourists will travel internationally, the Middle East’s percentage of this global travel market will increase from 6% to 8%. The region is therefore on track to receive 150 million international visitors annually by 2030.
There are many factors that have driven the Middle East’s success in the tourism arena and continue to do so.

First and foremost it’s a region that is home to one of the world’s most diverse tourism offerings, from the icons of a bygone era such as the pyramids of Giza and the ancient city of Petra, to architectural landmarks of the 21st century – the Burj Khalifa and the Burj al Arab, to name but a few.
And during times of trouble, the classic tourism destinations such as Egypt and Jordan always bounce back such is their timeless appeal and the warm hospitality of their people.

Meanwhile, the new kids on the block – the Gulf states - have put themselves on the world tourism map in a remarkably short space of time, thanks to their visionary leaders and their focused destination strategies, creating cities that continue to wow the crowds with their world-class tourism infrastructure.

There is no doubt Dubai has thrown the spotlight on the region in this respect, executing an aviation strategy that has made history by leveraging the emirate’s advantageous geography. Dubai is connected to all four corners of the globe via its hub, Dubai International, and its flag carrier, Emirates Airline, has led the way.

Launched 30 years ago with just US$5 million, two leased aircraft and serving only one route, the carrier has since grown into a global lifestyle brand with clout. Today the airline flies to more than 145 destinations globally, operates more than 219 aircraft and has 281 more on order. In 2014 Emirates flew 44.5 million passengers and this will increase to more than 70 million passengers by 2020 – the year when Dubai expects visitor numbers to cross the 20 million mark, which is double the 10 million who visited in 2010.

It’s also the year Dubai will stage the World Expo, a six-month event that organisers anticipate will attract 25 million visitors to the city.

By this time Dubai’s two airports, Dubai International and the brand new mega hub, Al Maktoum International – Dubai World Central (DWC) are expected to attract 126 million passenger annually.
When Al Maktoum is fully completed and operational in the late 2020s, its annual capacity will exceed the 220 million mark.
It’s a growth trajectory that’s become the envy of the world, but it drives positive repercussions for the global tourism industry.

The direct and indirect impact of the growing Emirates network and Dubai’s two global airport hubs, combined with the robust aviation strategies of other Gulf cities, in particular, Abu Dhabi and Doha, and their respective carriers, should not be underestimated.
During their meteoric rise to fame there have been many tourism industry partners who have played a key role in nurturing their growth and success.

They include the region’s leading travel industry trade show, Arabian Travel Market (ATM), which has supported and promoted the sector over the past 22 years.
The four-day event provides a platform to showcase the best the Middle East’s travel, tourism and aviation sectors have to offer, and continues to attract an intrigued international crowd year after year.
In May 2015 more than 26,000 visitors flocked to the show, which is organised by Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE), representing a 15% increase on 2014 visitor numbers.
They came to see 412 exhibitors (up 24% year on year) and to attend more than 50 education sessions, such was their appetite to learn about a region that is home to one of the world’s most dynamic and evolutionary travel industries.

The Middle East is a tourism success story that has captured the imagination of the world, but this is only just the beginning.
As we look to the future and the region’s governments forge ahead with their ambitious tourism and aviation development strategies, the true potential of the travel sector and its ability to drive economic prosperity regionally and globally will really come to light.

World Tourism Day serves to highlight the achievements and economic contribution of tourism-focused regions like the Middle East, inspiring destinations across the world to grow and develop their industries to local and global benefit.

1 Billion Tourists 1 Billion Opportunities.
Join the conversation on Twitter: #1billiontourists #WTD2015

Visit the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) website at to learn more.

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