As Middle Eastern nations look to diversify their economy beyond oil, tourism will most likely be the strongest sector to drive this change.
Middle East Travel Roundup
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The Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates this week revised the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2022 from 6.5 percent to to 7.6 percent. Explaining the reason for the renewed forecast, the bank cited stronger than anticipated performance of non-oil sectors, including tourism, hospitality, real estate, transportation and manufacturing. In its review report for the third quarter, the Central Bank noted that it expects non-oil gross domestic product to grow by 6.1 percent in 2022, compared to its previous estimate of 4.3 percent, while it expected oil gross domestic product to grow by 11 percent in 2022. Explaining the reasons for the steady growth in gross domestic product, the report cited the removal of most Covid-related restrictions, in addition to recovery of the tourism sector, real estate and construction boom, expansion of manufacturing activities, as well as the hosting of global events.
Saudi Arabia welcomed 3.6 million inbound arrivals to the kingdom in the second quarter of 2022, registering a 575.4 percent increase on visitor arrivals compared to the same period in 2021. The domestic tourist numbers also soared to 21.4 million, which was a 42.3 percent increase over the same period last year, according to figures released by the investment ministry. The inbound tourist spending in the second quarter went up to $4.18 billion, registering a 570 percent increase while domestic tourist spending increased by 31.5 percent to $6 billion during the same period. In the first six months of the year, 46 million international tourists visited the kingdom and spent $7 billion during the period.
In the first 10 months of the year, Dubai welcomed 11.4 million international overnight visitors, registering a 134 percent year-on-year increase over the 4.88 million visitors for the same period last year. In the first ten months of 2019, the city had welcomed 13.5 million international visitors. The performance for the period between January and October indicates that the city is on target to achieve its goals, Helal Saeed Al Marri, director-general of Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism said during the city briefing on the sidelines of the Skift Global Forum East. Announcing the United Arab Emirates’ Tourism Strategy 2031, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, had said that the country aims to attract $27.2 billion as additional tourism investments and 40 million hotel guests by 2031.
Aiming to offer a contactless and hygienic experience from “curb-to-gate,” biometric solutions will soon be implemented across all customer touchpoints at Abu Dhabi international airport. The project will initially see the deployment of next generation biometric solutions at select self-service baggage touchpoints, immigration e-gates, and boarding gates before implementing the technology across all passenger touchpoints in the airport. NEXT50, an Abu Dhabi-based technology company, along with French-headquartered IDEMIA that offers identity-related security services, and SITA, the information technology provider for the air transport industry, are working on the project. Upon final completion of the project, Abu Dhabi will be home to the world’s first airport to include every touch point in the biometric journey, providing travellers with a seamless, safe and secure passenger experience, said Jamal Salem Al Dhaheri, managing director and CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports. “This will also result in reduced wait times and less time queuing for passengers,” Al Dhaheri said. The systems will be using hi-tech biometric cameras to verify passenger details along several touchpoints in the airport, which includes the self-service baggage drop, passport control, business class lounge, and boarding gates.
Travellers in the United Arab Emirates would no longer be able renew their visit visas by staying in the country, according to local media reports. Visitors would have to exit the country before being able to apply for a visit visa extension. The country had relaxed the visa extension policy during the Covid-19 pandemic allowing visitors to extend their visas twice without exiting the country. While there has been no official confirmation about the new visa extension rule, but reports state that applications of those applying for a visa extension while within the country are getting rejected. Travel companies in the country have also introduced special packages for visa extension.
Dubai will be hosting a first-of-its-kind travel forum in the region. The forum is expected to lay the foundation for a home-grown world-class thought leadership programme to boost the city’s resurgent tourism industry and support regional and global tourism. Dubai’s department of economy and tourism announced the launch of the summit at the bi-annual city briefing held during the Skift Global Forum East. The Dubai Tourism Summit will provide a networking platform for industry stakeholders to share their vision, ideas, strategies and best practices, as well as insights on leveraging the latest innovations and trends to create a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable future for global tourism, the department said in a release. “The Dubai Tourism Summit will see us working even more closely with our domestic and global stakeholders and partners as we focus on pushing the boundaries further to highlight Dubai’s position as the top international destination and the best city in the world to live in, work and invest,” said Helal Saeed Al Marri, director general of Dubai’s department of economy and tourism.
Etihad Airways will be relaunching its flight to Kolkata in the eastern part of India, from March 26. The airline will fly daily on the Abu Dhabi–Kolkata route, providing a total of seven weekly nonstop services between the two cities. The airline will be operating Airbus A320 aircraft in this route. The resumption of flights to Kolkata means Etihad now flies to 14 destinations across the Indian subcontinent in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. The airline also announced the appointment of Raffael Quintas as chief financial officer. Quintas earlier served as chief financial officer at Infracommerce, the largest e-commerce enabler and solution provider in Latin America and has also been the chief financial officer at Portuguese flag carrier TAP Air Portugal. Quintas will be succeeding Adam Boukadida, who had been with the airline for nine years.
Accor will be launching SO/ Uptown Dubai next year. A first-of-its-kind in the Middle East, SO/ Uptown will house restaurants, bars, a spa, swimming pool, and a standout ballroom, alongside 188 stylish guestrooms. Located in the Uptown Tower, the luxury property will also feature a collection of 229 private residences, including one, two and three-bedroom apartments as well as four-bedroom duplexes. Among some of the other openings in the Middle East, Accor also announced the opening of Rixos Qetaifan Island Resort in Doha by mid-2023. The hospitality group had earlier planned to launch the hotel this year in time for the world cup. In 2020, while announcing the agreement signing for Rixos Qetaifan, Accor had stated that the resort would feature a 345-key hotel including a souq of 11,000 square meter of leasing space, a beach club, a theme park and a waterpark.
Egypt’s tourism ministry spent around $67 million on tourism promotion and aviation stimulation programmes during the 2022 fiscal year, Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa said. He added that spending on aviation stimulus amounted to $34.5 million during the fiscal year, and $32.5 million was spent on promoting Egyptian tourist destinations. The minister also noted that the number of external offices of the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Board have been reduced from 17 to 6, as a result of which the expenses have been reduced from $25 million to $5 million. In order to achieve Egypt’s target of welcoming 30 million tourists per year, Issa said that it is imperative to increase the hotel capacity from 211,000 rooms to 500,000 rooms.
Saudi Arabia’s ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched Nusuk, the kingdom’s integrated digital government platform for those visiting Mecca and Medina for Umrah, in Turkish language. Announcing the launch of the platform in Turkish at a trade roadshow hosted in Istanbul last week, the Saudi Tourism Authority said that the platform would enable simpler arrival procedures for visitors to perform Umrah, in addition to a range of services that will include facilitating visas, permits, booking processes and procedures along with special packages for a host of historical and religious sites in Saudi Arabia.
Tourist arrivals to Jordan reached a total of 4.6 million tourists in the first 11 months of this year, recording an increase of about 2.4 million from the same period last year. The country’s $5.3 billion in tourism receipts, also recorded a 115 percent growth from the first 11 months of 2021, according to data compiled by the Central Bank of Jordan. The volume of tourism spending outside the kingdom reached $1.35 billion in the first 11 months of 2022, marking an increase of 60.8 percent compared to the corresponding period of 2021. On a monthly basis, tourism receipts increased by 50.3 percent in November 2022 compared to the corresponding month in 2021, reaching $514 million. Jordan has also proposed to build a $300 million ‘tourist city’ next to the UNESCO World Heritage site where Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River.
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, the ultra-low-cost national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has commenced operations from the UAE capital to Samarkand, the second largest city in Uzbekistan. With fares starting as low as $50, the flight connecting Abu Dhabi with Samarkand will be operated on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with the frequency increasing to three times a week from January. Having launched in January 2021, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi now flies to more than 36 destinations within a five-hour flight time radius of Abu Dhabi. Welcoming the airline’s seventh and eighth aircraft Michael Berlouis, managing director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi said, “The new route will be operated by two new state-of-the-art Airbus A321neo aircraft which have been recently added to our fleet.”
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Photo credit: The Dubai skyline.