It seems that natural catastrophes, terrorism, growing political insecurity and protectionism cannot dampen the travel appetite and curiosity of people for other countries and cultures around the world. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) this sector provides 10% of all existing jobs – contributing 10.2% of global GDP and outpacing the global economy for the sixth consecutive year in 2016 with 3.1% growth.
For many African countries, tourism is an important source of revenue and the main solution to the problem of economic diversification. Furthermore, the WTTC report shows the direct correlation of investment into the travel and tourism sector and its impact on the economic growth and employment. Having invested $49.6bn in 2016, the Middle East region achieved growth of 4.5% of this sector's contribution to the GDP of the region.
As usual, there is a huge gap between the development of different areas within the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. While sub-Saharan Africa lags way behind its potential, the Gulf Co-operation Council region (and particularly the United Arab Emirates) is most successful in attracting tourists.
Being the safest destination in the MEA region with a modern ICT and connectivity infrastructure, the UAE champions the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum. As travel and tourism plays a central role in its national economic diversification strategy, the UAE keeps developing innovative ideas and finding new niches to attract visitors.
Next to the tallest tower and biggest shopping mall in the world, the new leisure parks in Dubai and the recently inaugurated Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the travel and tourism numbers in the future. However, there is also a serious sustainability concern related to the growing numbers of luxury hotels and tourism facilities in the region. Particular challenges are the consumption of water and electricity and the high level of food and general waste, which all need to be addressed.
Growing tourist numbers also means more air traffic and congestion in the most attractive sites, as already experienced in Europe. Despite the importance of travel and tourism in developing the local economy, connecting countries and cultures, and even creating peace, a long-term sustainability strategy must be the main priority for every host country.
Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. E-mail: email@example.com