Skift Take

With ambitious tourism targets, destinations in the Middle East would do good to pay heed to actor Idris Elba's suggestions to tap the creative sector.

British actor Idris Elba thinks Dubai deserves an Oscar award for its incredible tourism story.

The Academy Awards, more popularly known as the Oscars, is regarded by many as the most prestigious award in the entertainment industry in the U.S.

“The power of the narrative that says, ‘This is Dubai, come and check it out,’ has been incredible. I think Dubai should win an Oscar and other countries should take note,” Elba said.

Speaking at the three-day World Government Summit in Dubai on Tuesday, Elba said he now wants to see destinations come out with real policies to help creative arts be parts of the economy, which can then help attract tourists. He said the same thing of Greece.

As far as Skift could determine, Elba is not a paid spokesman for Dubai — yet.

Elba and his wife, model, actor and presenter Sabrina Elba, were in Dubai to receive Time Magazine’s Impact Awards for their work as UN good-will ambassadors, and creating awareness around sustainable agriculture and climate action.

At the summit, Elba went on note that countries like the U.S., UK and China that have seriously adopted creative arts as an industry have been able to wield incredible power from it.

“In business, it is a generator, not only of wealth, but of jobs. And it’s an almost future-proofing industry,” Elba said.

As countries in the Middle East attempt to diversify their economy from the oil industry, these destinations are increasingly leaning towards tourism setting ambitious tourist arrival targets.

While Dubai received 14.36 million international overnight visitors in 2022, it aims to take tourism’s contribution to the national gross domestic product to $122 billion a year by 2031 while aiming to attract 40 million hotel guests in 2031.

Saudi Arabia through its Vision 2030 aims to welcome over 100 million visitors annually, while fresh from the FIFA World Cup success Qatar seeks to welcome six million visitors by 2030.

Create Policies, Build a Task Force

While talking about the need for destinations to adopt policies to support the creative arts, Elba suggested building advisory boards and a task force while looking into earlier success models.

“If you’re a government official wondering how to bolster the creative industry, look to set up a task force. Involve young people to be a part of this narrative to bolster the creative industry,” he said.

Citing Greece’s example, Elba noted how at a time when the country was going through its worst financial crisis, the government announced tax rebates and incentives to attract international film and television production companies to come and shoot in the country.

“This helped bolster tourism and created employment opportunities for Greece. And they did that by taking advice from other countries that earlier had looked into this area,” he said.

During his conversation with Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg at the summit, Elba highlighted the importance of storytelling for all successful enterprises, including governments.

“The value and impact of great storytelling is measured in so many different ways,” said Katzenberg.  

Lion King for Africa

Katzenberg spoke about how two movies — the 1985 Meryl Streep and Robert Redford-starrer Out of Africa and the 1994 animation movie Lion King — turned out to be catalysts for the tourism industry in the continent.

Tourism is now a leading economic driver on the African continent, he said.

“Our storytelling and the visuals around it, serve as a lighthouse that brings people to the destination to see something that they experienced through the movies,” Katzenberg said.

While the Middle East destinations have been heavily tapping on sports to woo tourists, the United Arab Emirates has also been the location for many Hollywood movies.

Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Syriana, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Dune are some of the  most popular movies shot in the country, with the Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet-starrer Dune sequel being the latest film to complete shooting in Abu Dhabi.

Middle East destinations are also looking at celebrity endorsements to deliver strong triggers in the decision-making process for travelers, as was highlighted by Skift in an earlier story.


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Tags: abu dhabi, asia monthly, dubai, film, middle east, movies, qatar, saudi arabia

Photo credit: Actor Idris Elba was a speaker at the World Government Summit in Dubai. Harald Krichel / Wikimedia Commons

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