Editor's Blog

MENA growth is explosive – but is it sustainable?
Sun 17 Feb, 2019 at 12:00 am

With Expo 2020 appearing on the near horizon in Dubai and the Middle East representing high growth potential for the travel industry, placing a spotlight on the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is inevitable with new regionally-focused travel markets. Aspiring to create the most sustainable Expo in history, the industry will explore the efforts being taken by Dubai to leave a legacy of cutting-edge sustainability practices that will inspire generations to come.

Over the last decade the tourism industry in the Middle East has grown tenfold. The developments have been incredible with the tallest buildings and tallest hotels, revolutionary transport infrastructure, theme parks and leisure attractions that are the envy of the rest of the world. With visitor arrivals predicted to reach 25 million annually by 2025 and the opening ceremony of Dubai Expo 2020 now just a year away, the Middle East is set to continue to be one of the most dynamic travel destinations in the world. The development in infrastructure has been directly proportional to the growth of large congresses and association meetings, creating a new hub for major events, including massive incentive programmes.

Meanwhile, as the Middle East and North Africa’s travel and tourism industry continues to evolve, Lea Meyer – an analyst for Euromonitor International’s Middle East & Africa team – emphasises how regional and global trends are expected to shape travel demand and supply as we look to the future. The MENA region usually includes Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The region’s 380 million inhabitants are likely to increase with a GDP rapidly approaching US$4 trillion. The MENA region has roughly 60 per cent of the world’s known oil and 45 per cent of its gas reserves. MENA countries are rather heterogeneous with three groups emerging, each requiring different recipes for success. Group one consist of resource-rich, labour-abundant countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which produce and export successfully. These countries have a largely native population. Group two has resource-rich, labour-importing countries that produce and export energy-related resources but rely heavily on foreign or expatriate residents. This group comprises the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Group three has resource-poor countries and areas that are smaller producers or even importers of oil and gas, such as Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Palestine.

In 2018, the World Travel Market (WTM) in London, boosted by a significant increase in exhibitors for the MENA region, added seven regionally-focused Inspiration Zones to the show – UK & Ireland, Europe & Mediterranean, Middle East & North Africa, Asia, International and Africa – to make the event more focused on specific destinations. That the MENA region merited one of the seven focus zones is a testament to the growing importance of the region, both as a destination as well as a source market of commendable importance.

Some of the key exhibitors at WTM London from the Middle East were Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTC), Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, Ajman Tourism Development Department, Oman Ministry of Tourism and Jordan Tourism Board. Other exhibitors include Saudia Airline, QE2 Shipping LLC and Al-Muhaidb Group of Hotel Apartments & Grand Plaza Hotels, representing a spectrum so wide and so prolific in its buying power, that the world took notice with back-to-back meetings with representatives of the tourism trade from this region.

My experience of MENA’s business potential is exhilarating. The exponential growth of both leisure tourism and large meetings and congresses and the rapidity with which it has grown to encompass the broader spectrum of expectations and demands of the industry, leaves no doubt in my mind that this is the beginning of an exciting time of growth that is likely to surprise us, as well as exceed our expectations. However, the growth must be sustainable in every way for it to be meaningful and enduring.

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