Welcome to 2023 – a brand-new year full of possibilities for the travel and tourism industry
- Nasser Al Nowais, Chairman, Rotana
A brand new year is once again upon us! I'm thrilled to be able to offer you my heartiest wishes for 2023 and I feel hopeful about all the joys it will bring. But as we embark on this new beginning, I can't help but look back on the year we've had!
For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, 2022 saw international travel firmly on the rise. The airports were busier, new flight routes were added to accommodate the increase in departures and arrivals, destinations around the world offered the warmest of welcomes to travellers and hotels continued to expand.
Soaring once again
Around the world, we are seeing definitive signs of recovery, evident in the rise of tourism revenues. But if we're to go by recent reports, in 2023, our part of the world may be the only one to finally close the gap created by pandemic-affected figures. It comes as no surprise as, following the success of Expo 2020 Dubai, the region has hosted some of the world's most high-profile events, including the first FIFA World Cup to ever be held on Middle Eastern soil.
It's also worth mentioning that in the face of events that could have potentially put new barriers in place – geopolitical tensions, rising fuel costs and inflation – travellers fearlessly planned their itineraries and boarded planes to bring their plans to fruition. And so, as we go enthusiastically into this new year, on the back of a successful 2022, there are several reasons to be optimistic.
The return to normalcy
With the lifting of all restrictions in the United Arab Emirates – especially with masks being made optional in all open and closed facilities – travellers now have more confidence while visiting our sunny shores. The immediate rise in bookings following this announcement indicates that tourism stats will, from now on, only move further up the chart. But this is only one among the number of changes that have taken place in the country's tourism industry.
In the last quarter alone, a number of new properties have opened up, including Arabian Park Hotel and Damac Hills 2 Hotel from Rotana. Airlines have expanded their networks and fleets to launch routes to new destinations and increase capacity to others, with initiatives to make air travel more sustainable now firmly in place.
Dubai is gearing up to launch the third edition of its highly successful "World's Coolest Winter" campaign, while Abu Dhabi has unveiled its latest brand campaign – Experience Abu Dhabi. Find Your Pace – encouraging the world to enjoy the UAE capital's enriching experiences, from culture to thrills. With plenty going on, the UAE has set an example for other nations to follow suit.
Time for change
If we look elsewhere in the region, recovery strategies are yielding positive results. In Türkiye, the year 2022 saw the country revise its tourism strategy from 42 million visitors to 47 million and then finally to 50 million (close to 2019's 51.7 million) as the year continued to record strong recovery.
With new travel trends emerging, Egypt is keeping pace with the opening of a new wellness tourism destination, which will create more than 1,000 job opportunities and welcome around 29,000 tourists annually. These new facilities will attract a new segment of travellers seeking to mix recreation and wellness for holidays with a difference.
Over in Bahrain, the new airport expects to welcome nine million passengers by the end of 2023, (up from 6.5 million in 2022), although, with the new terminal, the capacity has increased to 14 million passengers and 130,000 air traffic movements per year.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced a US$703 million plan to develop the islands of Darin and Tarout. It focuses not only on enhancing the region's tourism appeal, but also the quality of life of the island's residents. The project will see the development of nature-inspired experiences, with hiking trails, mangrove forests, cultural festivals, hospitality concepts and more. Furthermore, there are plans in place for a new airport in Riyadh, which will accommodate 120 million travellers by 2030 and 185 million travellers by 2050.
It is encouraging to see these changes sweeping the region and beyond. We've made a fierce comeback and I couldn't be more proud of my counterparts who've worked incredibly hard over the last two years to help the industry as a whole bounce back. But most of all, we owe our gratitude to all of you who embraced every opportunity to make up for lost travel opportunities and for giving us the chance to be at your service!