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High marks for GCC tourism

Dubai gets the most out of tourists

Gulf News

Travel and tourism industries complement each other worldwide, and it is no exception in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Earlier this year, I attended a conference where an American diplomat with global responsibilities showered praise for GCC carriers. He argued that he always finds himself travelling through Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi en route to other places in Asia.

In fact, Dubai stands out, not just in the UAE but GCC as a whole. The emirate alone has generated some $10.4 billion in tourism revenues or about 22 per cent of all revenues generated from international tourists visiting the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region in 2012. This is according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), an authoritative source.

Amazingly, Dubai managed to do so whilst enticing 17 per cent of international visitors. Clearly, this points out to Dubai’s ability of getting the most out of the tourists, ostensibly offering matters to their liking in terms of facilities and potentials.

The credit for this outstanding performance is partially reserved for developing innovative travel concepts including artificial islands besides hotels meeting different tastes and budgets.

Against this background, it is no surprise for the UAE to be ranked ahead of fellow Arab countries in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013. The report, issued by the renowned World Economic Forum, ranks the UAE at number 27 worldwide after advancing by six notches in a span of year, in itself an achievement.

Astonishingly, the financial value associated with the travel and tourism sector in the UAE amounts to $50 billion. This is a substantial amount not least for comprising around 14 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

This marks the highest representation of this sector in the GDP of any GCC state. For example, the travel and tourism sector accounts for 7 per cent of the GDP in Bahrain.

In fact, Dubai International Airport is steadily emerging as the second-busiest airport in the world for international traffic, second only to London’s Heathrow at the moment. Undoubtedly, Emirates is a major contributor to this phenomenon, something being reinforced with a novel long-term strategic partnership with Australia’s Qantas.

Suffice to say that Emirates operates flights to more than 120 destinations daily in six continents with substantial frequency to demanding destinations such as Bangkok, Manila, and Tokyo. To many passengers, the advantages of flying with Emirates include the opportunity of experiencing A380 on a growing number of long-haul flights.

Still, flydubai is developing as a successful model by operating flights to some smaller airports not necessarily served by Emirates, and where served, to budget conscious passengers. Interestingly enough, Flydubai has opted to offer business class, therefore adding a new dimension to the notion of budget airlines. In the words of a Dubai-based correspondent of a leading foreign newspaper, the carrier is a surprising success story.

Happily, other GCC countries are appreciative of their tourism potentials. For instance, Qatar is sparing no time advancing its tourism cause thanks in part to efforts of state-owned Qatar Airways. The carrier relentlessly expands its network, with ensuing positive spillover effects to the local economy through the transit business. Qatar Airways now flies to some 129 destinations worldwide including five cities in Iraq alone.

Reverting to linkage of travel and tourism, some 121 hotels are under construction in Qatar nowadays, something unprecedented in the country’s history. Certainly, some of these properties are being developed ahead World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

The challenge now relates to strengthening positions of the travel and tourism sector throughout the GCC in an ever competitive global economy.

The writer is a Member of Parliament in Bahrain.