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Ready for ascent

The Middle East's booming tourism blends luxury, tradition and rich experiences, attracting an increasing number of visitors from all around the world

- Nasser Al Nowais, Chairman, Rotana

Endless desert expanses, picturesque dunes immortalised in Hollywood, bustling street markets, unparalleled luxury, deep-rooted traditions, exquisite cuisine and warm hospitality – the Middle East captivates travellers with an array of enriching experiences. With the region's unique appeal, it is little wonder that its tourism industry is booming!

Recent visitor arrivals indicate that the tourism sector in the GCC, in particular, has well and truly taken off, highlighting the growing allure of the region. The recent achievements of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar signal a promising future for the GCC's travel industry, with Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait closely following suit to redefine their propositions.

Leading by example

Dubai has consistently upheld its status as one of the most favoured destinations for travellers worldwide. This was reinforced in 2023 by the emirate hosting a record-breaking 17.15 million overnight visitors. This impressive achievement aligns with the Dubai Economic Agenda D33, which aims to position the emirate among the top three global cities for both business and leisure, elevating it as the ultimate destination to visit, live and work in. 

Dubai’s dynamic appeal is underpinned by iconic architecture, world-class infrastructure, exceptional service, opulent indulgences and experiences that seamlessly blend modernity with tradition, promising unforgettable adventures. Never keen to rest on its laurels, the emirate continues to push boundaries in tourism development, working tirelessly to curate a unique year-round calendar of events while spearheading the development of new avenues to attract visitors. In doing so, it has become a pioneer in the global tourism landscape.

Surpassing expectations

When Saudi Arabia opened its doors to the world, taking its first steps in its tourism journey, it laid out ambitious strategies to nurture the sector, including introducing its roadmap to welcoming 100 million visitors by 2030. However, thanks to robust tourism development efforts in recent years, the kingdom surpassed its targets seven years ahead of schedule. Visitor numbers in 2023 reached 106 million, with the kingdom welcoming over 79 million domestic visitors and over 27 million international tourists. In light of this achievement, the kingdom has revised its targets for 2030 and now aspires to welcome 150 million annual visitors by the end of the decade.

The success of Saudi Arabia's tourism sector can be largely attributed to its ambitious giga-projects. While some destinations are already open to visitors, others are still taking shape. These range from architectural marvels poised to redefine the kingdom's urban landscapes to untouched islands that highlight the beauty of the natural world.

Much like the rest of the region, Saudi Arabia's ability to blend progressive thinking with tradition is contributing to its success. This is exemplified by projects that not only showcase the country's contemporary approach but also celebrate its rich culture. For example, while the upcoming luxury island destination Sindalah will boast a vibrant marina that will bring world-class luxury vessels to Saudi's shores, developments like Ad Diriyah offer a glimpse into the kingdom's past, showcasing its rich heritage.

Making strides

Qatar's resounding success in positioning itself as a global destination is mirrored by its remarkable achievements in recent years. Following the monumental hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022, Qatar's appeal was further bolstered in 2023, as it welcomed a record-breaking four million visitors. Events such as Shop Qatar and the AFC Asian Cup held during the year were instrumental to the country's tourism growth.

Building upon the triumphs of 2023, Qatar saw over 1.5 million international arrivals in the first two months of 2024 alone. This success was attributed to renowned events like the Doha Jewellery & Watches Exhibition and the Qatar International Food Festival. Leveraging the momentum generated by such internationally acclaimed events, Qatar remains steadfast in its commitment to attracting a growing number of tourists annually.

Renewed focus

In 2023, Abu Dhabi hosted close to 24 million overnight visitors, many drawn by the emirate's vibrant cultural venues. A report released by the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi last year revealed that the emirate recorded three million visits to its cultural sites in 2022, with a 99 per cent visitor satisfaction rate. From UNESCO Heritage Sites like Al Ain Oasis to landmarks such as Qasr Al Hosn and contemporary marvels like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the emirate is leveraging its cultural offerings to attract a growing number of visitors. And with iconic theme parks and glamorous malls added to the mix, Abu Dhabi is poised to lead the way.

In line with its commitment to advancing its tourism sector, the UAE capital recently launched the Abu Dhabi Tourism Strategy 2030. This ambitious plan aims to elevate the emirate’s tourism sector by increasing visitor numbers to 39.3 million by 2030. To achieve its goals, 26 initiatives have been identified across four pillars, with an aim to enhance the overall guest experience by unveiling additional cultural sites, theme parks and retail offerings. Moreover, they seek to enrich the emirate’s events calendar with year-round concerts, festivals and family events, ensuring that Abu Dhabi remains a premier destination for tourism.

A unified approach

With the region's tourism industry consistently surpassing global travel metrics across various parameters, there has never been a more opportune moment for the sector to realise its unified vision for growth. The impending launch of a unified visa system promises to simplify and streamline travel to the region, fostering seamless exploration and enhancing the region's appeal to global travellers.


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