Why Travel to the Middle East is “growing Faster Than Any Other Region” - Latest Global News

Why Travel to the Middle East is “growing Faster Than Any Other Region”

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Last week, representatives from the travel and tourism industry from more than 150 countries met at the annual Arabian Travel Market trade fair, held this year in Dubai.

There, CNN’s Eleni Giokos spoke with Julia Simpson, President of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), about trends in tourism in the Middle East and the challenge of making travel more sustainable.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

CNN: The tourism sector is thriving in many parts of this region, but is also coming under pressure in others. Tell me about the macro trends you’re seeing right now.

Julia Simpson: Well, it’s really interesting because travel is not only back, it’s booming. We’re here in the Middle East – this is my first time at the Arabian Travel Market – but the interesting thing is that everyone tells me they’ve never been so busy. So I think that’s actually very, very descriptive of what we’re seeing globally: a very strong market for travel and tourism everywhere.

CNN: But in terms of interest and demand for the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries and the Middle East as a whole, have you ever seen such demand?

Simpson: Well, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Middle East are growing faster than any other region. The Saudis just celebrated their 100 millionth visitor, Dubai is just announcing a brand new airport that is breathtaking, and visitors are flocking to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al-Khaimah here in the (United Arab Emirates). We see that revenue numbers have increased by 50% and the contribution to GDP – measured by the amount of money that travel and tourism brings in and contributes to the economy – has increased by 25%. It is very, very strong. So the entire region is doing very well.

CNN: Why do you think that is? Is it because of the product offering? Is it because in many places it is still essentially a frontier market, while other destinations have been so popular for so long?

Simpson: I think two things are at play here. Firstly, Dubai is now very well established worldwide. People come here, they know it’s safe, they know they can have a great time, very high quality, good cuisine, good art, interesting culture. And then the rest of the GCC really evolves. So in Saudi Arabia (Arabia), the project in Diriyah is incredible. They took over an old Saud family castle and rebuilt it, and it now has literally hundreds of thousands of visitors. So it happens everywhere.

I think the other trend is that people are looking for authenticity. People are really interested in visiting the area and finding out what’s going on – there’s a rewilding of a million trees in Saudi Arabia, there are green mountains, and I think one of my favorites is Oman, that’s what I have to say . It’s just a wonderful country and Oman is quite far to the south. When it gets very, very hot in the Middle East, people move to the south of Oman to enjoy the green hills. It’s an amazing, very rich area.

Visitors and delegates at the Arabian Travel Market.  -CNN

Visitors and delegates at the Arabian Travel Market. -CNN

Impact on the climate

CNN: We have had unprecedented flooding in the region – we have seen this happen in the UAE, particularly in Dubai which was badly affected, so sustainability is now paramount. Is it more important than ever for this region?

Simpson: It is true that we are seeing more major climate events around the world and everywhere. That’s why I think it’s really important that when we look at travel and tourism we understand the impact we have on the climate. Until now, no one knew what impact (the travel industry) was having, but we (the World Travel and Tourism Council) have worked with the Saudis and Oxford Economics and now know for sure that in our industry we contribute 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But the interesting thing is that now that we have the data, we know where this comes from.

For example, the vast majority of our impact actually comes from ground vehicles. So that’s all of our ground vehicles, whether it’s a small van that brings raspberries to the hotel or the bus that takes you from the airport. Therefore, global electrification is really important.

Then of course air travel. And in aviation there will be next-generation aircraft with much more efficient engines and also the production of sustainable aviation fuel. We are currently not producing enough of it worldwide, but there are now targets to achieve. The problem is that airlines have no responsibility for the fuel they use. They have to buy their fuel. So it’s really important to talk to countries to get them to invest in sustainable aviation fuel.

CNN: I would like to talk about the impact of the conflict in the region and the war in Gaza. What can you tell us about risk perception?

Simpson: When I talk about something like this, the first thing to keep in mind is that this is a real human tragedy and all our sympathy goes out to everyone involved in this terrible conflict. In terms of the impact on travel and tourism, of course people in the middle are suffering a lot from the fact that tourists don’t want to go there. But just outside the area, the areas are doing very well.

Egypt has some very strong travel and tourism numbers because it is a large country. It depends on where it is geographically. The Gulf is not affected as we can see from the numbers, but I think you are right, there is a general feeling and that may be reflected in attendance numbers. However, outside of the directly affected area, we are currently not seeing a major impact on travel and tourism.

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