Under the patronage of H.E. Eng. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, Minister of Economy of the United Arab Emirates, the UNWTO & ATM Ministerial Forum in Dubai this year took a close look at tourism’s contribution to sustainable and inclusive economic growth and diversification in the MENA region.

Moderated by CNN Becky Anderson, the UNWTO/ATM Ministerial Forum concluded that the main priorities for the region include human resources development, public/private sector cooperation, connectivity, technology and sustainability.

Issues on discussion included the development of domestic tourism by engaging repeat travellers, the support to innovation and entrepreneurship, the need to improve the quality and ‘perception’ of tourism employment, visa facilitation, intra-regional connectivity and the measurement of tourism’s impact through the recently launched UNWTO Initiative on Measuring Sustainable Tourism (MST).

Participants further recalled that much of the growth of the sector comes from the high level of support at policy level it receives from many countries in the region as a tool to diversify oil-based economies.

H.E. Mohammed Khamis Al Muhairi, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Economy, UAE, said that tourism has proven to be one of the main pillars of economic and social development in various countries. He pointed out that the MENA region has strong potential to become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations due to its extensive tourism attractions. He added that the region’s countries are at the threshold of a new phase of tourism growth which requires greater cooperation to ensure the maximization of opportunities offered by this sector. He also noted the need to consolidate partnerships at the government and private levels to overcome obstacles to their efforts to enhance the competitiveness of their respective tourism sectors and make the most of tourism’s impact on their growth and development.

Mr Al Muhairi further stated that “tourism is a top priority under the development policies of the UAE, revealing that the sector contributes 12.1% to the national GDP and accounts for around 10.4% of the domestic labor market”. “Investments to the sector exceeded AED 26 billion in 2016, a year which saw the number of visitors to the UAE reaching 24.8 million with total spend of about AED 110 billion”, he added

Commending the UNWTO/ ATM Ministerial Forum for providing an important platform for discussing the best ways to enhance the contributions of tourism to the development objectives of the UAE and other countries in the region he emphasized how the forum reflects the UAE’s keenness to support the global efforts to make tourism one of the pillars of sustainable development.

unwto-session“Despite all external shocks, the Middle East and North Africa tell one of tourism’s biggest success stories. A story that brings an immense opportunity to make tourism a pillar of economic diversification, job creation and sustainable development in this region” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

“Today’s meeting is an opportunity to identify the priorities of tourism policy for the MENA destinations, strengthen regional cooperation and public-private partnerships that prepare the region to welcome the 195 million international tourist arrivals – almost triple the present volume of 72 million – forecasted by UNWTO for 2030. ” he added.

Mr Rifai said there was a need for tourism growth in a “seamless and friendly manner”, adding “We must cooperate, not isolate, and ensure we link tourism to our national tourism agendas.”

The Secretary General hailed the unique approaches being taken by each of the seven emirates to drive local growth in support of common tourism goals. Of special mention was Ras Al Khaimah, whose tourism development authority earlier in the year became an official sponsor of the UNWTO 2017 Year of Sustainable Tourism Development.

Simon Press, Senior Exhibition Director, ATM, said: “The Middle East is developing at an extraordinary pace as countries diversify from a dependence on hydrocarbon receipts. As such it is vital leaders in the region continue to find new ways of capitalising on tourism growth built on sustainability.

“The UNWTO & ATM Ministerial Forum provided an effective platform for stakeholders across the industry spectrum to identify the opportunities, as well as the challenges, that currently prevail throughout the region.”

Mohammed Al Muhairi, Undersecretary of the UAE Ministry of Economy underlined the fact that tourism has proven to be a key pillar of economic and social development, adding that “MENA destinations have the potential to become world leading, but we now require further collaboration to capitalise on the opportunities available in this sector.”

The Middle East received 53.6 million international tourist arrivals in 2016. Arrivals decreased an estimated 4% with very mixed results among the region’s destinations. International tourist arrivals to North Africa grew by 3% to 18.6 million.

Speakers at the Ministerial Forum included Shaikh Khaled Bin Hmoud Al Khalifa, Executive Director for Bahrain Authority for Tourism and Exhibitions, H.E. Mr. Mohamed Yehia Rashed, Minister of Tourism of Egypt, H.E. Mr. Avedis Guidanian, Minister of Tourism of Lebanon, H.E. Mrs. Maitha Saif Majid Al Mahrouqi, Undersecretary, Ministry of Tourism of Oman, H.E. Mrs. Salma Elloumi Rekik, Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts of Tunisia, H.E. Mr. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism, Development Authority, United Arab Emirates, H.E. Mr. Haitham Mattar, CEO of the Ras Al-Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, United Arab Emirates, Dr. Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat is the current Managing Director, Jordan Tourism Board, Mr. Adel Al Redha, Executive Vice President & Chief Operations Officer, Emirates Airline, Mr. Vijay Poonoosamy, Vice President, Etihad Airways, Mr. Antonio Peña, Director, JSF T&T School, Mr. Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Dawood, CEO, Al Tayyar Group, Mr. Ivan Jakovljevic, Travel Industry Director, MENA region, Google, Mr. Yousef Wahbah, Partner & Leader, Real Estate & Hospitality, MENA region, Ernst & Young, Mr. Antonio Lopez de Avila, Director Tourism Innovation Centre, IE (Instituto de Empresa), Spain, Mr. Carl Obst, Director, Institute for the Development of Environmental-Economic Accounting and Mr. Antoine Medawar, Vice President for the MENA Region, AMADEUS.