Making a mark

Countries around the region have their sights set on a brighter future as they gear their tourism efforts towards becoming some of the most visited destinations in the world


- Nasser Al Nowais, Chairman, Rotana

The Arab world has long been a place of intrigue. Once at the crossroads of the most important trade routes connecting the east to the west, it is today the beating heart of the modern world, a place where timeless traditions blend seamlessly with advancements from the future to create a unique landscape.


The transformation has been rapid, especially over the last few decades, with nations in the Middle East now setting a fine example for developing countries around the world. Vast open stretches of barren desert have given way to futuristic skylines while secluded towns have developed into swanky hubs boasting some of the world's most iconic tourist sites. Yet, our age-old traditions have been respectfully preserved.


In the past, camel caravans once traversed the sands, bearing some of the harshest desert conditions to facilitate the trade of goods. Villages in the region – often nestled within oases – welcomed these travellers warmly with water and food after their long trek through the dunes and offered them a place to rest their heads when night fell. This sentiment remains at the heart of our bold, ambitious plans for the tourism landscape of the present and the future. That warm Arab hospitality echoes in everything we do, and this is what takes us from strength to strength, and what will carry us through as countries in the Middle East aim to rank among the most visited destinations in the world. And we're almost there!


The year 2022 began with great news as Dubai ranked first in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is aiming to exceed 70 million tourists this year after drawing 62 million last year. Sights are also set on Qatar as the nation will become the first in the Middle East to host the FIFA World Cup later this year.

While a lot has already been achieved, these nations are not keen to rest on their laurels. Heritage sites, striking landmarks, cultural hubs, shopping havens, sprawling hotels, nature reserves, luxury resorts and culinary masterpieces are in the making. Infrastructure is being built and new programmes to attract an increasing number of visitors are being developed.


In the UAE, new strategies, such as Abu Dhabi's Tourism Strategy 2030, which aims to attract 23 million tourists annually by 2030, and Ras Al Khaimah's mission to welcome three million visitors per year by 2030, are already in place.


Over the last half-decade, Saudi Arabia has pulled out all the stops to demonstrate how much of a priority tourism development is to the kingdom. Its UNESCO heritage sites and vibrant cities are already wowing visitors but as the kingdom puts it, the best is yet to come. Giga projects touted to change the tourism landscape, including the Red Sea destination, Qiddiya and Neom, are set to open in phases beginning this year.


In Qatar, the country is working hard to further develop its tourism proposition beyond the FIFA World Cup™ matches. As part of the nation’s efforts to offer exciting experiences outside sporting arenas and stadiums, there is a raft of hotels, resorts, cultural and retail attractions due to open soon. It's an integral part of the country's strategy to reach six million visitors by 2030.


Following suit, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait are working equally hard to redirect their efforts towards tourism development and attract an increasing number of visitors annually.


Yet, for countries in the region, it's not only about the rise in visitor numbers. In the wake of the pandemic, the preferences and priorities of travellers have changed. We are witnessing an increase in demand for immersive experiences that transform them, sustainable choices that put the planet and local community first and an ever-growing reliance on technology. And tourism businesses need to keep up with the times to maintain customer loyalty.


It is encouraging to see that the region has taken note, with businesses now working towards offering meaningful and transformative travel experiences, set in the most magnificent surrounds, from picture-perfect dunes to lush oases. New technologies are being embraced to streamline operations to usher tourism into this dynamic new era. And steps are being taken in the right direction to lessen the impact on the environment. It's not just banning plastic straws and recycling water bottles. Companies are taking the extra step and getting creative with their sustainable and responsible travel strategies by inviting guests along their journey to participate in activities that help offset their carbon footprint.


Change is well and truly underway and the region is ready to take on the challenge!